THOMAS AND UBER CUPS 2018 Preview – The best teams assembled

With the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals kicking off this weekend, the best teams in the badminton world have decided their members to fight for the globe’s top team honours.  […]

With the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals kicking off this weekend, the best teams in the badminton world have decided their members to fight for the globe’s top team honours.  China used to be the only highly favoured team for both cups, but the end of their domination saw challenges rising quickly from other nations.

By Jong.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Uber Cup

A new wall to climb: Japan

Other than being seeded first in the 2018 edition of the Uber Cup, the Japanese ladies have been on fire in the recent tournaments.  Almost all of the players that will be fielded in Bangkok have recently won a top level title.  Hence, in order to clear the hurdle posed by this team, a country needs, at the very least, to have someone who can win matches over either 2017 Superseries Finals Champions, Olympic gold medallists, Asian Champions (Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota, pictured), or World Champion.  Currently, no country has shown that they have that calibre set of female players.

Still medal contenders: China & Thailand

China might be seeded second in this tournament, but a lot of their youngsters have not yet shown themselves able to handle the pressure to receive the baton passed from the legends that went before them.  Evidence for this lies in the fact that none of them has won anything this year apart from Lingshui China Masters Super 100.

The key for this team to win falls on Li Xuerui (pictured).  It is very rare for a team to be able to field such an experienced and hopeful player at third singles.  Often the last match, it can often leave the decision of a team tie to the least experienced players but every once in a while, injury or other circumstances can put a seasoned veteran in the clutch position.  It worked for the Korean men at the last Asian Games, where China too had the chance to use Lin Dan in the same way, but Li Xuerui is the best hope for a similar turn of events in this year’s Uber Cup competition.

Thailand might not be a team full of top level players but their standard has risen over the years.  Thailand women team won all last 3 editions of SEA Games’ badminton team competition and they have home court advantage in the upcoming Uber Cup.  At the last three big tournaments held in Bangkok, Thai shuttlers appeared in both women’s finals and this year’s Thailand Master featured home winners in both women’s singles and doubles (Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai, pictured top).  They will be stronger with the addition of Ratchanok Intanon and Sapsiree Taerattanachai who were absent earlier this year.

Thomas Cup

Defending Champions need to fight hard

In contrast to the Uber Cup, the Thomas Cup has no clear distinction in any team.  Judging from the past few World Tour results, the seeded teams should all be capable of beating each other.  China might have the best team with a majority of them within the top 10, the only exceptions being their 4th singles player and 3rd doubles pair.  Still, most of their players have not been consistent this season.  Defending champions, Denmark, are down one of their star players as Carsten Mogensen decided to withdraw from this competition.  Their second best pair, the two Mads Conrad-Petersen / Mads Pieler Kolding (pictured), had recently retired due to injury in from the European Championship final.  This is a worrying situation for the defending champions as their opponents will be looking to topple an under-strength titleholder.

No Mistake Repeated

The powerhouse of men’s doubles, Indonesia, has some controversy over the selection of Firman Abdul Kholik over Tommy Sugiarto in the squad as 3rd /4th Singles.  Despite Sugiarto  being one of only two players to have won a major men’s singles title for Indonesia in the past two years and despite his experience in big team events, PBSI was not keen on inviting him as an independent player.  The Indonesians needed to choose carefully as men’s singles proved to be the discipline that lost them the final tie at the 2016 Thomas Cup.   Nevertheless, the two-time Asian Men’s Team Champion is still a strong cup contender.

Struggling but Coming Back

Other than the top two seeded teams, there are a lot of strong teams like Japan and Malaysia.  Although not as strong as their female counterparts, the Japanese men still stand a chance of repeating their 2014 success.  With the strong comeback of Kento Momota (pictured), Japan has a fairly equal strength of men’s singles and doubles players.

Acting differently from Indonesia, Malaysia offered their vacancy for independent players.  Malaysia took the risk of including Mohamad Arif Abdul Latif and Teo Ee Yi while excluding their regular partners.  They will rely heavily on Lee Chong Wei and Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong to deliver first 2 points and then remain hopeful that some among their less experienced backup players can produce a breakthrough.

The 2018 edition of the promise to be even more exciting compared to the last few editions.  We might see new faces on the top of podium and compare growth in badminton development in some countries that used to fall behind.  There are no longer badminton power house that can dominate every matches.  The unpredictable winner will be the highlight in Bangkok this year.

Click here for complete team rosters and draws

About Jong