THOMAS CUP 2014 Preview – The pressure is on second singles

The Thomas and Uber Cups finals run for a long eight days this month in New Delhi and in many of the key ties, the second and third singles are […]

The finals run for a long eight days this month in New Delhi and in many of the key ties, the second and third singles are going to enjoy special significance this time around.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto


What with the return to form and resuscitated careers of veteran badminton prodigies Lee Hyun Il of Korea, Simon Santoso of Indonesia, and Lin Dan of China, who is the highest earning athlete in badminton, all the pre-qualification list buzz surrounded how almost as difficult a hurdle the third men’s singles would be as the first singles, were all these men to join the party.

Now we know for sure that China’s Lin Dan can only be fielded in the third singles spot.  Adding to the intrigue, Indonesia can shrewdly use Simon Santoso for either second or third singles slots.  Korea are doing without their former world number 1 Lee which doesn’t completely eliminate them from the running for gold but means they have no even chance as far as third singles goes.

Left field and lefties

Gone probably are the days when a doubles player would be fielded for singles as Malaysia’s Koo Kien Keat and Korea’s Lee Yong Dae, both having been ranked top in their disciplines.  Ever since the Badminton World Federation put in place a rule to do a new draw for the quarter-finals, no team has found it to be in their interest to lose in the preliminary round robin.

The Thomas Cup has become an utterly serious affair as a result, yet there is still room to deploy a player whom opponents least expect.  Left field decisions make a tournament more entertaining for viewers and the outcome uncertain for players and coaches.

Denmark are again bringing along mixed doubles specialist and powerful southpaw Joachim Fischer Nielsen who would be delicious to watch in a second doubles contest against China’s other famous left-hander Fu Haifeng.  Malaysia and Thailand have also named their top mixed doubles proponents, Chan Peng Soon and Sudket Prapakamol respectively, to their squads.

Fischer Nielsen was instrumental in Denmark defeating Malaysia at the last edition, and gave Korea a scare when he took the first game 21-11 and led 5-0 in the second against Lee Yong Dae / Kim Sa Rang.

Prior to the quarters

On paper, the most exciting pre-quarter-final prospect is between Denmark and Japan, scheduled for Day 4.  Each of the top three singles players for either side are closely ranked, led by world #3 Jan O Jorgensen and world #4 Kenichi Tago respectively.  Denmark will choose their top three singles but Japan may well go with their fourth player, the younger Takuma Ueda on the day, largely depending on who they feel does better against tall lanky players.

Second doubles does not necessarily mean it is played after the first doubles.  Malaysia, as usual, have all the right ingredients and it is whether they can mix them in the right order.  Also on Day 4, a doubles win will be crucial towards living up to their higher seeding than Korea.  Their former world #1 Tan Boon Heong is likely to be used in a scratch pairing, perhaps with his partner of many years ago Hoon Tien How, or with Goh V. Shem, with whom he is entered in next month’s Japan Open.

Group stage match ups of note:

Day 1 Chinese Taipei [5/8] vs. Russia
Denmark [3/4] vs. Hong Kong
Malaysia [3/4] vs. India
Day 2 Korea [5/8] vs. India
Day 3 Japan [3/4] vs. Hong Kong
China [1] vs. Chinese Taipei [5/8]
Day 4 Japan [3/4] vs. Denmark [3/4]
Malaysia [3/4] vs. Korea [5/8]

Post quarters: counting chickens before they’re hatched

The top six teams stand apart from the pack.  Of those, Korea, China, Indonesia, and Denmark can say they each have two tournament points that won’t go begging because they have the best in the world, if not the equal best, at their disposal.  Malaysia’s [3/4] team seeding is artificially bolstered by the having the most consistent of any player of any discipline on the circuit which amounts to one sure tournament point for them while the other four points are unsure.

With Lin Dan almost assured of winning any of his third singles, the pressure has moved onto all the second singles players, including China’s.  Will the Chinese use Du Pengyu or Tian Houwei?  The Thomas and Uber Cups are a lot about taking risks to get ahead, and there is much to gain from using the fastest riser over the past year, Tian, who plays a solid consistent style like Du yet possesses an added element of danger by virtue of being left-handed.

Likely second singles players on critical occasions:
China – Tian Houwei, WR#16; or Du Pengyu, WR#6
Indonesia – Simon Santoso, WR#34
Denmark – Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, WR#12
Japan – , WR#14
Korea – Lee Dong Keun, WR#32
Malaysia – Chong Wei Feng, WR#27

China, Denmark, and Indonesia play poker

Although they will both be there, there is no possibility of a Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan match.  The thrill of both top seeded countries meeting is really in how either will play their men’s doubles cards.  Indonesia are seeking their 14th victory and China attempting to catch up by scoring a 10th.

If it were not for the last-minute loss of Mathias Boe (see here), it could well have been Denmark’s year for their first win, especially since the next edition around, Denmark might no longer have the services of Mogensen and Boe.  Their team still possesses solid cornerstones across all three singles players and they have experience in abundance as their edge when compared to their rivals Korea and Japan.  They might now have an even more formidable Plan B in possibly exploiting their top mixed doubles player plus Carsten Mogensen in second men’s doubles but that now leaves the two Mads men to take on the world’s best pairs.

Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @