Kunshan, China: After clinching a historic bronze medal in the last edition, the Indian women's team, led by Saina Nehwal, will eye another good show but it will be an uphill task for the depleted men's team at the Thomas and Uber Cup badminton tournament starting in Kunshan on Sunday.
Indian women had reached the quarterfinal for the first time at the 2010 Uber Cup in Kuala Lumpur but it was only in 2014 in New Delhi when they clinched their maiden bronze after going down 2-3 to five-time champions Japan in their maiden semifinals appearance.
Indian women's team have been clubbed with 2014 runners-up Japan, Australia and Germany and once again the onus will be on Rio-bound shuttlers Saina and P V Sindhu to earn them wins in the two singles. The choice of the third singles player will be among Ruthvika Shivani Gadde, Tanvi Lad and P C Thulasi.
Saina Nehwal. AFP
In a format comprising of three singles and two doubles, once again it will be 2010 Commonwealth Games champions Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa -- both have booked their Rio berth -- who will carry the responsibility. Besides, there will be N Sikki Reddy and K Maneesha for the second doubles.
Indian women will face Australia in their campaign opener on Monday, before taking on Germany and the formidable Japan in the next two days respectively.
In Thomas Cup competition, Ajay Jayaram will spearhead the Indian challenge while World No. 12 K Srikanth gave it a miss and H S Prannoy was left nursing a foot injury.
In their absence, the onus will be on B Sai Praneeth, national champion Sameer Verma and his elder brother Sourabh to step up and take responsibility in the three singles.
In the doubles, Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy, who became the first Indian men's doubles pair to qualify for the Olympics, will lead the challenge. Besides them, Akshay Dewalkar, young R Satwik Sai Raj of Andhra Pradesh and Mumbai's Chirag Shetty would complete the line-up.
India has been clubbed in Group B alongwith Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong and though it seems like a relatively easy draw, the absence of top players will hurt India's chances to progress to the knockout stage in what is only their eighth appearance in the prestigious event.
"Srikanth and Prannoy's absence will be a setback, but Sameer and Sai have had some encouraging results of late and hopefully we can step up to the task and get some good wins," Jayaram told PTI.
Indian men will open their campaign against Thailand tomorrow and then square off against Hong Kong and Indonesia on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We are definitely in a tough group and getting through to the quarters is going to be an uphill task. All 3 group stage ties will be crucial. However, I believe that if we can get off to a good start by getting the better of Thailand it will be good moral boost," said Jayaram.
"It's hard to pick out any particular match that we will rely on as it is a well balanced team and every member will play a crucial role in getting the team through."
Since its inception in 1948-49, the Thomas Cup has been won by only four nations: Malaya/Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan while the Indian team failed to reach the knockout stage till 2006.
In 2006, it was the men's team which broke the jinx by reaching the quarterfinals. In 2010, India lost to Indonesia 0-3 in the quarterfinals. In the last edition, India could not go beyond the group stage.
Updated Date: May 14, 2016 22:04 PM