Saturday, May 14, 2016
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | EDWIN LEUNG & BADMINTONPHOTO
“One of the most interesting Thomas Cup tournaments in many years,” pronounced Morten Frost, Technical Director at Badminton Association of Malaysia and battle-hardened veteran of many campaigns as player and coach.
Frost went on to say five, or even six, teams had an equal chance of winning the title. “Small things – like if someone hasn’t slept well the previous night, or is carrying an injury – that will make the difference.”
Frost was providing his prognosis on the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2016 that will begin tomorrow in the Chinese city of Kunshan; the Dane and several other representatives of various teams were invited to share their thoughts with the media.
Rexy Mainaky, High Performance Director of PBSI, echoed Frost’s thoughts. “Yes, the Thomas Cup is very open. Every team has its particular strength. Malaysia for instance have a strong Men’s Singles and two strong Men’s Doubles pairs. Although Japan have lost their two Men’s Singles players, they are still a force to reckon with. It’s about how the key players play.”
The press conference was split into sessions to enable the players and coaches of several countries – China, Japan, Korea, England, Denmark, Indonesia, France and Malaysia – to interact with the media. While the representatives of the more powerful countries considered their teams’ title prospects, the relatively weaker ones stated that the experience would come in handy for their young squads.
Peter Gade, France’s Performance Director, and England Men’s Singles spearhead Rajiv Ouseph both admitted that they were in difficult groups and hoping for an upset or two.
“It’s a big thing to qualify for the Thomas Cup Finals,” said Gade. “Being with China and Japan (in Group A), they’re strong opponents. The goal for us is to play with determination and desire as we did in the European qualifiers in Kazan. Our players will fight the best they can and we’ll see what happens. For me, the Thomas Cup has been very special. To play China at home is a big challenge for us, but we can play free and enjoy the moment and show the right attitude.”
England are in Group C with Korea, Malaysia and Germany, and Ouseph said it would be a stern test for his young team.
“It has been a very long qualification year (for Rio). The team is carrying a few injuries. We’re a young team, it’s about getting experience against strong teams. It would be great to cause an upset.”
Denmark are among the favourites as they have a balanced squad. Head coach Lars Uhre was unwilling to play his cards on his doubles line-up, and was circumspect on his team’s title chances. “We hope we are strong enough to win a medal in the Thomas Cup,” said Uhre. “The team is struggling with injuries; Carsten Mogensen’s absence (in Men’s Doubles) is a weakness. As for the Uber Cup, the goal is to reach the quarter-finals as it’s a young team.”
Korea (featured image), despite its legacy as a strong men’s team, has never won the Thomas Cup. Coach Park Tae San hoped this would be the time the Koreans would emerge on top. Korea are in Group C with Malaysia, England and Germany.
While the competition in Thomas Cup is more even, the Uber Cup has two teams that, in terms of depth and balance, stand above the rest: China and Japan. On Saturday, there was just that hint of shadow-boxing as the mentors of the two teams looked ahead to a possible final.
Japan’s Head Coach Park Joo Bong didn’t shy away from addressing his team’s status as joint favourites.
“Compared to two years ago, we have a more balanced and stronger women’s team. Our Women’s Doubles pairs have beaten the top Chinese… the Chinese are our biggest opponents.”
His opposite number in the Chinese team, Li Yongbo, however issued a not-so-subtle warning.
“We respect every opponent. Japan have improved a lot, but we have to focus on the group stage. There are other strong teams in the competition. Japan should consider whether they can make the final against China.”