Indians face Herculean task

Indians face Herculean task

 As India hosts the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals for the first time, the focus will fall intensely on the home teams when they take to the courts of Siri Fort Sports Complex on Sunday.

While the qualifying stage of the tournament has been held in India in 1988, 2000 and 2006, this is the first time the country is staging the Finals. Indian players have done well in the home conditions in the past and this time too they would be hoping to enthral the spectators with a good show. The road they need to traverse, however, is bumpy.

This time the organisers have done away with the qualifying event and brought together 16 nations to compete for the coveted title. China are the defending champions in both the Thomas and Uber Cup and favourites to retain the crowns.

The Chinese made a foray in the tournament in 1982 and since then have won the Thomas Cup nine times. Although Indonesia lead the tally with 13 titles, it is China who are are line for their record sixth consecutive title. In Uber Cup, China have been champions 12 times, winning seven of their last eight tournaments.

India will like to draw inspiration from their past home ties. They reached the finals thrice -- in 1988, with the heroics of Prakash Padukone, in 2000 when Pullela Gopichand, also the current national coach, led the way, and in 2006 when Arvind Bhat, Anup Sridhar and Chetan Anand took charge.

 In Uber Cup, India had limited moments to cherish. But with the emergence of Saina Nehwal as a top-10 player India, in 2010, broke the deadlock of 50 years to qualify for finals. Olympic medallist Saina and World Championship bronze-medallist PV Sindhu, will boost the singles while Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who recently won bronze at the Asian Championships, form a formidable doubles combination.

Pradnya Gadre and Sikki Reddy will be the second doubles pairing. PC Thulasi is likely to be preferred over Tanvi Lad for the third singles. However, India’s over reliance on singles could work against them.

Indian women have got a relatively easier draw in Group C comprising Canada, Hong Kong and Thailand. While Thailand led by Ratchanok Intanon will be toughest to deal with, India are confident to prevail over other two teams to secure a quarterfinal spot.
 The women’s team start their campaign against Canada on Sunday and will benefit from the absence of their top singles player Li Michelle.

China, in Group A, with their top three ranked players comprising Li Xuerui, Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan are miles ahead from rest.

In Thomas Cup, India will be led by the experienced Parupalli Kashyap. Placed in Group C, India have drawn a tricky opponents in Malaysia, Korea and Germany. They start their campaign against World No 1 Lee Chong Wei led Malaysia, the only other country to have won the Thomas Cup apart from China and Indonesia. India’s 18-ranked K Srikanth will play the first singles while Sourabh Verma may play the third singles in the five-match format which includes three singles and two doubles tie. In the doubles, the hosts have Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy and Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Akshay Dewalkar.
China, placed in Group D, are boosted by the presence of great Lin Dan, a five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist. The recently-introduced Instant Review System will be used for the first time during the week-long event.

Meanwhile, Sayali Gokhle replaced an injured Arundhati Pantawane in the women’s Indian squad as the latter was not able to recover from a shoulder injury sustained earlier in the week.

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