New Delhi, May 17 (IANS):
A new chapter unfolds in Indian badminton when the Siri Fort Sports Complex here plays host to the 28th edition of the Thomas Cup and 25th edition of the Uber Cup Sunday onwards.
Captains Parupalli Kashyap and Saina Nehwal will lead the Indian men's and women's teams, respectively, at the biennial events which are being hosted in India for the first time May 18-25.
Sixteen nations each with the world's best players will participate in the two tournaments and the who's who of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) will also descend here for the sport's most prestigious tournaments and their Annual General Meeting May 24.
India came close to reaching the Thomas Cup final twice in the 1950s, thanks to the individual brilliance of singles players. But they lacked the depth, particularly in doubles, to seriously challenge for the Cup, overall qualifying for the Finals eight times. However, their Uber Cup record is dismal, qualifying for the Final stage only thrice since the tournament began in 1957.
From this year on, the format got simplified with the top 16-ranked teams making the cut with the BWF doing away with the qualifiers.
On paper, India can really challenge the best in the world, especially in the Uber Cup where the Saina-led team has drawn Thailand, Canada and Hong Kong in Group C.
The hosts have two relatively easy ties against Canada Sunday and Hong Kong Monday before they take on Thailand Tuesday, who will pose a tough challenge with current World Champion Ratchanok Intanon in its ranks. However, since the top two teams from the group qualify for the quarterfinals, India should make it without hassles.
India have two extremely strong singles players in Saina and World Championship bronze medallist P.V. Sindhu and with the experienced doubles pair Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, they should be a force to reckon with.
However, the picture does not look so rosy in the men's category where the team start off against Malaysia Sunday, before taking on South Korea Monday and Germany Wednesday also in Group C.
Malaysia, who finished third in the 2008 and 2010 editions, will be tough with players like World No.1 Lee Chong Wei in their ranks. Also, their doubles pairs Thien How Hoon/Wee Kiong Tan and Khim Wah Lim/V. Shem Goh are among the world's top combinations.
Though South Korea are seeded lower than Malaysia, they pose an even tougher challenge, having finished runners-up in 2008 and 2012. India's Kashyap and Kidambi Srikanth have a good chance against their singles players, but it will only be a miracle if they pull it off against Korea in the doubles.
The favourites for both the tournaments are China. The powerhouse has won nine Thomas Cup titles, including the last five editions. Indonesia, who have won 13 Thomas Cups -- the most by any nation -- commence their campaign to regain the title they last won in 2002 with an opening Group A match against Singapore Monday.
In Uber Cup, 12-time champions China -- boasting a squad of Olympic, World and multiple Super Series winners -- will unleash their formidable resources against Russia Sunday.