The chief protagonists of the Li-Ning BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals were either confident, cautious or reflective with the event around the corner.
The Siri Fort Complex looks set for the Finals starting tomorrow and with their teams in the last stages of preparation, the men on whose shoulders all the burden falls – the team coaches tasked with big decisions – were unwilling to look too far ahead. The air of confidence, however, differed from one coach to another depending on the strengths of their teams.
China’s head coach Li Yongbo (featured image) was optimistic about his teams defending both the men’s and women’s titles, but was not dismissive of their opponents either. China are grouped with Chinese Taipei, France and Russia in Group D of the Thomas Cup and with Chinese Taipei, England and Russia in Group A of the Uber Cup.
“Theoretically, we’re stronger in the Uber Cup, but that does not mean we are definite winners. We have to take all the matches seriously,” Li said.
Asked if he thought the Men’s Doubles were a cause for concern, he stated: “No, I’m not worried. From my time, we have had one strong pair, but now we have three strong pairs. If we compare with the past, we have more choice now.”
One of the teams expected to pose a challenge to China in both the men’s and women’s sections are Japan. Despite having strong singles and doubles in both events, head coach Park Joo Bong (right) sounded cautious on his teams’ chances. Japan will have to contend with Denmark, England and Hong Kong in Group B of the Thomas Cup and with Denmark, Germany and Malaysia in Group D of the Uber Cup.
“We’re second seeds (in Uber Cup), so we will try to get to the final,” said Park, who expects a harder challenge for his men.
“We have good balance in both the men’s and women’s teams. In the men, the challenge will come from Denmark and Hong Kong. Denmark’s three singles are quite strong. Although Mathias Boe is injured, Denmark’s doubles are still strong. Hong Kong’s three singles are good too. This time we are second seeds in Uber Cup and fourth seeds in Thomas Cup and we have twice reached the semi-finals in both events in recent years, so there is pressure to enter the finals. Our players have done well in the Superseries, but it’s more important to perform well in big events like the Thomas and Uber Cups, World Championships and the Asian Games.”
Boe, one half of the No.2 ranked Boe/Carsten Mogensen pair, pulled out after he was diagnosed with a medical condition that required surgery.
Japan’s teams includes youngsters like Kento Momota and Akane Yamaguchi, but Park conceded their performance at the junior level may not necessarily translate to success at the senior level.
“Momota has to improve,” said Park. “Akane won the BWF World Junior Championships recently, but the senior level is different. This is her first experience of the Uber Cup, so we’ll see.”
While teams like China and Japan can afford to aim for the title, there are a few teams that are less ambitious with their targets. England are one such team and coach Peter Jeffrey admitted his immediate task is to ensure qualification for the quarter-finals. England’s men are in Japan’s group while the women have to deal with China, Chinese Taipei and Russia.
“We know we’re playing against world-class opposition in all our matches, but we’re not coming here as tourists, we’re coming here to try and qualify from the groups in the men’s and women’s,” stated Jeffrey.
“We know it’s a difficult job, but we like the challenge, so we’re up for it. The target really is to come out of the group and make the quarterfinals. In the rankings it’s looking difficult for the women’s team, so we’ll try to come third in the group, but also second and into the quarter-finals. The men’s team are in a similar position, except that we have Rajeev Ouseph (above). He’s challenging the best in Europe and the world. The rest of the team are in the same position as the women.”
A high-intensity week lies ahead, and for Li, Park and Jeffrey, the calm atmosphere at Siri Fort before tomorrow could well be the lull before the storm.