India's top badminton players, including PV Sindhu and Lakshya Sen, will headline the country's contingent for the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals, scheduled to start on Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Thomas and Uber Cup are the Badminton World Federations' biennial team championships and the Finals, which will see the top 16 teams in action, will be held from May 8 to 15. The tournament is badminton's version of a world team championship, with the men's team competing in the Thomas Cup and the women's teams in the Uber Cup, in both singles and doubles.
India will field a strong squad featuring all the top-ranked players along with the ones picked from the Badminton Association of India's selection trials last month. In the draw that took place in April, the Indian men's team was placed in Group C with Chinese Taipei, Germany and Canada in the Thomas Cup while the women's team was drawn in Group D with South Korea, Canada and the United States.
The Indian men's team has never won a medal in the Thomas Cup, while the women have reached the semifinal twice, in successive editions of the Uber Cup in 2014 and 2016. In the previous edition, both the men's and women's teams' campaign came to an end in the quarterfinals.
Here's a closer look at India's squad, draw and schedule.
Who is part of India's squad?
The Indian men's team will be a full-strength one, headlined by world No 9 Lakshya Sen and world No 11 Kidambi Srikanth. HS Prannoy, ranked 23rd in the world, will be the third singles player in the group. The world No 9 pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty complete the team. Doubles players MR Arjun, Dhruv Kapila, Krishna Prasad Garaga, and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala are also part of the doubles contingent.
This is one of India's sturdiest squads in terms of ranking and regular results on the BWF Tour, but the team's performance at the recently-concluded Badminton Asia Championships left much to be desired. Sen will look to hit his stride in the group stage after a solid start to the year, which included the India Open title and the final of All England. Kidambi, runner up at December's World Championship, is looking for another boost while Prannoy, who is returning after a short injury layoff, will look for a strong comeback after getting a respite from trials owing to his recent results.
The women's team is comparatively less experienced, with world No 7 PV Sindhu the only high ranking player. Aakarshi Kashyap (No 54), Ashmita Chaliha (64) and 14-year-old Unnati Hooda (No 240) are the other singles players in the mix, the latter having done well at the trials ahead of higher-ranked players. None of them have the experience of regular matches on the BWF circuit but will look to make the most of this opportunity.
Saina Nehwal, who is ranked 23, missed out due to not taking part in the selection trials. She had raised questions over the timing of the trials and said she needed time to recover physically in a packed calendar.
In doubles too, India has a weakened squad. The veteran pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy withdrew due to injury and were replaced, while the fast-rising Gayatri Gopichand pulled out days before the event. Gayatri, who forms the women's doubles combination with Treesa Jolly, has been in good form, winning at the selection trials soon after reaching the semifinals of the All England Championships in March. No replacement could be named since the extent of her injury came to light after the deadline for making any change. Besides Treesa, the other doubles players in the squad include Tanisha Crasto, Shruti Mishra, Simran Singhi and Ritika Thaker.
What is India's draw and chances?
India has a relatively good draw, on paper, and should be in with a shot of reaching the knockouts in the men's event at least. The top two teams from each of the four groups progress to the quarter-finals. During the group stage, the tie is decided on the result of five matches - three singles and two doubles.
In the Thomas Cup, India is placed with Chinese Taipei, Germany, and Canada. Of these, only Chinese Taipei has top-ranked players with world No 4 Chou Tien Chen being the highest-ranked and Wang Tzu Wei ranked 15th in the world, while the doubles pair of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin is world No 3.
In the Uber Cup, India is drawn with South Korea, Canada, and the USA, which might prove to be considerably tougher given the young team. Korea will be the biggest challenge, headlined by the fast-rising world No 4 An Seyoung with Kim Gaeun (19) and Sim Yujin (no 46). But to finish in the top two, India will have to stave off Canada. Michelle Li is Canada's highest-ranked player at No 11 followed by Zhang Wen Yu (No 77) and Rachel Chan (no 86) and can overcome the Indian team in the group stages.
Who are the teams and players to watch out for?
The Thomas and Uber Cup finals will see the world's top players in action, with Spanish superstar Carolina Marin making her comeback after an almost-long injury layoff last month.
Indonesia is the most successful team in the Thomas Cup with 14 titles, while China is the most successful team in the Uber Cup with 15 titles. They are also the defending champions, having won the previous edition, postponed by the pandemic, held in Aarhus, Denmark last October.
07:30 - India vs Germany - Thomas Cup - Group C
17:30 - India vs Canada - Uber Cup - Group D
12:30 - India vs Canada - Thomas Cup - Group C
07:30 - India vs USA - Uber Cup - Group D
07:30 - Korea vs India - Uber Cup - Group D
12:30 - Chinese Taipei vs India - Thomas Cup - Group C
May 12 - Quarterfinals
May 13 - Semifinals
May 14 - Uber Cup final
May 15 - Thomas Cup final
Where can you watch it?
The 2022 Thomas and Uber Cup will be broadcast on Sports18 and streamed on Voot starting Sunday.