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Thomas and Uber Cup 2021: Men in with chance to qualify for playoffs, women rely heavily on Saina Nehwal

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Thomas and Uber Cup 2021: Men in with chance to qualify for playoffs, women rely heavily on Saina Nehwal

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sounak mullick

10/08/2021

The latest edition of Thomas & Uber Cup will get underway from October 9, and after a dismal Sudirman Cup, the Indian teams will look to have a better campaign in Denmark. The biggest boost for the Indians will be the return of Saina Nehwal, but it remains to be seen how she fares in competition.

Thomas Cup

After a disappointing outing in the 2021 Sudirman Cup, the Indian men’s shuttlers will have their priorities set at the upcoming Thomas Cup, beginning on October 9 in Denmark. Tokyo Olympians Sai Praneeth and the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty would be all the more adamant to make amends.

India has been pitted alongside defending champions China, Netherlands and Tahiti in Group C of the competition. Each fixture will consist of three singles and two doubles matches, with all the teams playing in a round-robin format. The top two teams after the league stages will qualify for the knock-outs. The 10-member Indian contingent will be up against the Netherlands in the opening match on October 10, followed by their clash with Tahiti a couple of days later. The Indians will be up against a strong Chinese side in the last group stage match on October 14. Without doubt, Sai Praneeth and former world no.1 Kidambi Srikanth will be outright choices for two of the three singles matches, while Sameer Verma is the most likely pick for the third singles.

On the other hand, India’s top pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will be summoned for the first singles, with the duo of M.R.Arjun and Dhruv Kapila being the frontrunners to represent the nation in the remaining doubles fixture. Winning any three matches will hand the team one point in the best-of-five fixtures.

Throwing light on the overall scenario, India is in a much comfortable position to qualify for the quarter-finals in the upcoming event. Unlike the previous edition, where they were pitted with China, as well as France and Australia, the draw is relatively easier. Even though a win over China is far-fetched, India certainly have the capability and quality to overcome Netherlands and Tahiti.

Men’s Singles

Praneeth has had a mixed outing in the international circuit this year, with him failing to win a single match at the quadrennial event (2020 Tokyo Olympics). The Sudirman Cup was yet another disappointment for the shuttler, as ended up on the losing side of the only singles and the doubles matches he played. There is every possibility that Praneeth might face similar opponents in the Thomas Cup as well, with Chinese star Shi Yuqi also in the fray. However, he might be having a tricky match against Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands, against whom the Indian lost at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

It was unfortunate how Kidambi Srikanth was not part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but the former world no.1 has moved on and started the new season pretty well. In the only singles match he played in the Sudirman Cup, the shuttler defeated Finland’s Kalle Koljonen. However, he ended up on the losing side in both the doubles clashes. But, that’s not going to happen in the Thomas Cup, with him likely to play singles only. A stiff competition is awaiting him from the Chinese opponents, but there’s no reason why should not get the upper hand in the matches against Netherlands and Tahiti.

After an incredible return to the professional circuit in the Thailand Open earlier this year, Sameer Verma has looked solid. Even though he was ousted by compatriot Kidambi Srikanth in the quarter-finals of the Swiss Open, the 26-year old managed to reach the pre-quarters in the All England Open, only to see himself lose to Danish heavyweight Anders Antonsen. The 28th ranked player in the world would be handed yet an opportunity to establish himself in the international circuit. One or two wins in the group stages would be a great result for the Indian.

Men's doubles

The Indian top pair of Satwiksairaj & Chirag narrowly missed out on a knock-out qualification at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, following which they skipped the Sudirman Cup. The 10th ranked side in the world has the potential to beat the very best on its day. The match against the Chinese pair of Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen will be their ultimate test. However, the fixture against China is on October 14, their last in the group stage, while the top-two could be well decided before the fixture. As things stand, the road seems clear for the pair, with the Netherlands and lowly-ranked Tahiti on their course.

Not the most experienced, but certainly a team you would want in the squad, MR Arjun and Druv Kapila have shown loads of improvement in the past few months. Their inspiring win over the Thai duo of Supak Jomkoh and Kittinupong Kedren was enough to justify why they are the next big thing in Indian badminton. Realistically, winning one match in the group stage will be a ‘job well done’ for them, while another win would be a bonus.

Team

B. Sai Praneeth, K. Srikanth, Kiran George, Sameer Verma, R. Satwiksairaj, Chirag Shetty, Dhruv Kapila, M.R. Arjun, G. Krishna Prasad, and Vishnu Vardhan.

Uber Cup

The Indian women's squad would be looking to make amends at the Uber Cup after a dismal show in Finland. The relatively inexperienced women shuttlers, sans the presence of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, had only managed two wins at Sudirman Cup, that too against a lowly Finland team -- Malvika Bansod won her singles encounter against Nella Nyqvist and the pair of Tanisha Crasto & Rituparna Panda downed Matilda Lindholm & Jenny Nystrom.

All that is in the past now, and a different-looking Team India would step on the court in Denmark. With Nehwal returning for the two-time bronze medalists, chances of India at least winning a couple of ties look bright but a berth in the quarter-finals may still be a tough ask. But what could work in India's favour is the confidence they carry from the success of the previous editions, as they returned with two medals in the last three competitions. Even though there is no Sindhu in the team once again, the chances of India posting a few wins is far greater than it was in Finland. Nehwal will be raring to get back on the court, in what has been a season full of hardships for her, while the youngsters in the team will carry a lot more experience with them after they faced the likes of China and Thailand. 

Women's singles

Without any doubt, the first preference for a singles tie will be world no.19 Nehwal. The 31-year-old has played in five competitions this year and was far from impressive in the little match-time she got. India is drawn alongside Scotland, Spain and Thailand in Group B, and the players from the Asian powerhouse have been Nehwal's nemesis this year. At the Thailand Open at the start of 2021, she lost to Busanan Ongbamrungphan in the Round of 16. Then a week later Ratchanok Intanon beat her in the Round of 32 clash. Come the Swiss Open, it was Phiyyaporn Chaiwan's turn to down her in the Round of 32. All these players are in the Thai team, but Saina will have to find a way to get past them. 

The other singles player will be Bansod, who has the crucial experience of playing at the Sudirman Cup. In the clash against Thailand, she had lost to Pornpawee Chochuwong relatively easily, but this would be a fresh start for the world no.104, and she would be looking nothing short of a win. At a later stage, if the third singles tie is played, someone like Tasnim Mir could be tried, who is the world no.4 in the juniors. Aditi Bhatt could get a chance as well. She had played against the world no.1 Chen Yufei in Finland and lost in straight sets, but would certainly be a better player after that kind of experience. 

Women's doubles

Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy are the obvious choices here to play in the ties against Thailand and Spain. The pair had an ordinary outing in the Sudirman Cup, but would be hoping for an improved show come the Uber Cup. In the clash against Scotland, Tanisha Crasto and Rituparna Panda could be tried as well, but that solely depends on the fact -- where the team is placed. If a win could help India make it to the playoffs, it is unlikely that the youngsters will be fielded on the court. But if the result from their clash won't make a difference to India's chances, they will certainly be played, with an eye on the future. The team also consists of Gayatri Gopichand, Pulella Gopichand's daughter, who plays singles and doubles both, but she doesn't seem to be getting a game. 

Team 

Saina Nehwal, Malvika Bansod, Aditi Bhat, Tasnim Mir, Tanisha Crasto, Rutuparna Panda, Ashwini Ponnappa, N. Sikki Reddy, P. Gayatri, Treesa Jolly.

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