NEW DELHI: Semi-retired superstar Lin Dan will return to the courts in a bid to create more badminton history as China go for a record sixth straight Thomas Cup win in New Delhi from Sunday (tomorrow). Dominant China are the overwhelming favourites for both the men’s event and the Uber Cup for women, which also takes place at the Siri Fort complex in the Indian capital until May 25. Lin, arguably the greatest player of all time with five world, two Olympic and five all-England titles under his belt, enjoys cult status despite his now-limited appearances on the circuit.
The 30-year-old left-hander came out of an eight-month lay-off to win the China Masters and Asian titles last month, indicating his skills had not diminished and he still remained the man to beat. With China poised to surpass former powerhouse Indonesia’s five successive Cup wins between 1994 and 2002, Lin was picked for the trip to New Delhi even though his ranking is a lowly 58th. Lin has been entered as China’s fourth singles player behind number two Chen Long, Du Pengyu and Tian Houwei, but is widely expected to be pushed ahead for the third singles.
India’s coach Pullela Gopichand said Lin’s presence showed how seriously China were taking the competition. “You take Lin lightly at your own peril. Never write him off,” the former All-England champion said. “That they have got him to play shows how keen China are to win again.” Looking for their 10th Thomas Cup title, the Chinese men have been drawn alongside Taiwan, Russia and France in Group D, with two teams qualifying for the knock-out rounds.
If the men are formidable, the Chinese women seem almost unassailable in the Uber Cup with the world’s top three singles players – Li Xuerui, Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan – in their ranks. China have won seven of the last eight Uber Cup competitions since 1998, the awe-inspiring sequence being broken only by South Korea’s stunning 3-1 win in the final in Kuala Lumpur in 2010. The Chinese girls hit back to rout the Koreans 3-0 in the final at home in Wuhan two years later and wrest back the title. World number one Lee Chong Wei leads Malaysia’s Thomas Cup hopes, but 13-time champions Indonesia, Japan and Denmark are expected to be China’s main challengers.
Fifth-ranked Tommy Sugiarto, Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka and Simon Santoso head Indonesia’s singles squad, while reigning world champions Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan could be unbeatable in the doubles. Japan have one of the most balanced squads with world number four Kenichi Tago, Kento Momota and Sho Sasaki playing singles and the third-ranked pair of Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa leading the doubles.
Denmark, drawn with Japan in group B and widely regarded as the best nation never to have won the Thomas Cup, appear strong with world number three Jan O Jorgensen in their ranks but will miss doubles specialist Mathias Boe due to injury. Both the Thomas and Uber Cup events this year have been expanded to 16 nations from 12 in previous years, with four preliminary groups sending two teams each into the quarterfinals.
Thomas Cup for men:
Group A: Indonesia, Thailand, Nigeria, Singapore
Group B: Japan, Denmark, Hong Kong, England
Group C: Malaysia, South Korea, Germany, India
Group D: China, Taiwan, Russia, France.
Uber Cup for women:
Group W: China, Taiwan, England, Russia
Group X: South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore
Group Y: Thailand, India, Canada, Hong Kong
Group Z: Japan, Denmark, Malaysia, Germany.
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