Sunday, May 20, 2018
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
France had the perfect start to their Thomas Cup campaign on the opening day of the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2018 today, getting the better of India 4-1 in Group A.
In other ties of the opening session, Indonesia blanked 5-0 Canada in Group B of the Thomas Cup, while in the Uber Cup, Japan outclassed Australia 5-0 (Group A) and Chinese Taipei overpowered Hong Kong 4-1.
India, having arrived in Bangkok without their top Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles players, further blunted their attack by not fielding HS Prannoy for the first singles and Sumeeth Reddy/Manu Attri for the second doubles.
However, the Indians started well, with Sai Praneeth dominating Brice Leverdez 21-7 21-18.
Young Indian pair Shlok Ramchandran/Arjun MR have had some promising results recently, but Bastian Kersaudy/Julien Maio capitalised on their experience and shut out the Indians in the first doubles, 21-13 21-16, in just 30 minutes.
At a point apiece, the outcome of the tie weighed heavily on the second singles, with World No.21 Sameer Verma taking on World No.43 Lucas Corvee.
Despite the gulf in rankings, it was the Frenchman (featured image) who looked more assured through the first two games, and with two match points at 20-18 in the second, he looked set to give France the lead. However, Verma stayed stubborn in the face of adversity, and took the match to a third game.
Corvee refused to let the setback faze him, and he maintained his attacking rhythm to outpoint Verma, who eventually fell 21-18 20-22 21-18.
“I faced him a month ago and lost quite a close match,” said Corvee. “So I know his style. I tried to follow the same strategy as last time, but was more aggressive on the important points. I think I was too aggressive at the end of the second and rushed it a bit when I was up two match points. I made some mistakes as I was a bit stressed… it was important to keep fighting in the third set. I knew he would fight until the end even when he was not in a good position.”
Thom Gicquel and Ronan Labar never let their hold on the second doubles slip as they shut out Arun George and Sanyam Shukla 21-10 21-12 to win the tie for France.
Toma Junior Popov wrapped up the tie 4-1 for the French as he edged past teenaged Indian Lakshya Sen 22-20 19-21 21-19 in the closest match of the session.
“It’s a big win as they were our direct opponents for the quarter-finals,” said Labar. “Against China tomorrow we’ll play as best as we can and enjoy the game and then it’s Australia on the last tie, we have to be 100 percent focussed to secure our second place.
“Today was the crucial game for us, we’ve prepared for this for the last two weeks. They might have been without their best players but still it was more difficult than it seemed on paper. They were still favourites. There were some French spectators and we got some support. We’ve been doing well over the last five years and doing well at the European Championships and we reached the quarter-finals of the Thomas Cup once so we’ll try to at least reach the quarter-finals again.”
Indonesia had little trouble from Canada in Group B, winning all five matches without dropping a game. Anthony Ginting got them the lead in the opening singles over Jason Anthony Ho-Shue, 21-11 21-18, and Hendra Setiawan/Mohammad Ahsan made it 2-0 beating Jonathan Bing Tsan Lai/Duncan Yao, 21-8 21-15.
Ihsan Maulana Mustofa won them the tie routing Antonio Li 21-6 21-8 before Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto (second doubles) and Firman Abdul Kholik (third singles) clinched their matches with ease.
Uber Cup top seeds Japan also had a comfortable start to their campaign, against Australia in Group A.
Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi ran into a stubborn challenge from Wendy Chen in the opening singles, but once she had pocketed the tie 24-22 21-19, the rest of the Australian resistance melted.
Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota made it 2-0 against Gronya Somerville/Renuga Veeran and Nozomi Okuhara clinched the tie beating Louisa Ma 21-6 21-6.
There were no surprises either in the second doubles or third singles, with Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi and Sayaka Sato respectively ensuring a clean slate for Japan.
Louisa Ma could only marvel at Okuhara’s speed and control: “She’s got a complete game, it was a really good experience to play the World champion,” Ma said. “She’s very assured in her shots and makes no mistakes at all, you really have to go for every point. Her serve’s really high, it’s not something I was used to. She’s very fast and at the net she’s right there, you can’t give her any space. This is my first Uber Cup, this is the biggest team I’ve played. The atmosphere is amazing.”
Hong Kong were combative against Chinese Taipei in Group B, with Cheung Ngan Yi taking World No.1 Tai Tzu Ying to three games before going down 21-18 20-22 21-11.
Ng Wing Yung/Yeung Nga Ting levelled the deficit winning their doubles against Hsu Ya Ching/Wu Ti Jung 14-21 21-10 21-19.
However, Pai Yu Po (second singles), Chen Hsiao Huan/Hu Ling Fang (second doubles) and Chiang Mei Hui (third singles) ensured that Chinese Taipei suffered no further hiccups.