Saina, Kashyap key as India eye quarters in Thomas & Uber Cup

Touted as the World Cup of badminton, the Thomas and Uber Cup comes to India for the first time but despite promising to raise their game in home conditions, the country`s shuttlers have kept their expectations realistic in the star-studded biennial event starting here tomorrow.

In a tournament which has been dominated by Asian players from countries such as traditional powerhouse China, Indonesia and Malaysia, India have failed to come up with consistent performances over the years despite being among the top badminton nations in the 1950s and 60s.

This time too the Indian shuttlers are targetting at least the quarterfinals of the prestigious tournament.

India reached the final stage no more than eight times in Thomas Cup and three times in Uber Cup. Even in 1988, when the qualifiers were held in the Indian capital, India had reached the final stage, riding on the performance of Prakash Padukone, late Syed Modi and Vimal Kumar.

Later in 2000, Pullela Gopichand, the current national coach, helped India reach the final stage in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

In 2006, Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat and Nikhil Kanetkar helped India reach the quarterfinals, while riding on Saina Nehwal, the Indian women`s team snapped its poor record with a quarterfinal finish in Uber Cup at the 2010 edition in Kuala Lumpur.

Indian men also reached the last eight in 2010.

However, India failed to qualify in the last edition and this time the onus will be on Commonwealth Games bronze-medallist Parupalli Kashyap, a veteran of four Thomas Cup, and Olympic bronze-medallist Saina to take India to the knockout stage once again.

India have been clubbed with Malaysia, South Korea and Germany in Thomas Cup and Thailand, Canada and Hong Kong in the Uber Cup.

While Kashyap and his team will start their campaign against a formidable Malaysia, Saina and Co. will look to set the ball rolling when they face Canada tomorrow.

With a format of three singles and two doubles, India will be solely relying on singles to take them through, and Saina and Kashyap have their task cut out as captains.

"It is a tough draw but it is evenly matched in singles.

The two ties against Malaysia and Korea are really important and if we can get good results in one of those ties then we have a chance to go through," Kashyap said.

"We will have to win all the singles. If we can pull out a doubles from somewhere it will be a bonus for us. I think we are capable of beating them," he added.

Because of his higher world ranking, it will be K Srikanth who will have the responsibility of giving a positive start, while Kashyap will play the second singles and the third singles will be played by one among RMV Gurusaidutt, Sourabh Verma and B Sai Praneeth.

In Uber Cup, World No. 8 Saina will take the court to give her team a rousing start, while World No. 11 Sindhu will have to win her second singles. The third singles will be a choice between Arundhati Pantawane, P C Thulasi and Tanvi Lad.

Commonwealth Games gold-medallists, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa will be expected to pull off their doubles match to take India to the last eight stage.

"First singles makes a lot of difference. I have to be very focused. If I can perform well in my opening singles, it will boost the confidence of others. Hope me and Sindhu win the singles, as well as Jwala and Ashwini in doubles. In such a scenario, we have a good chance of making the quarterfinals," Saina said.

Defending champions China will look for their 10th Thomas Cup title, and eighth title in Uber Cup, while plotting their fall will be formidable competitors such as 13-time champions Indonesia, Japan and Denmark.

Among the stars, all eyes will be on China`s Lin Dan, a five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, besides top-ranked Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia.

Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia, Kenichi Tago of Japan and third-ranked Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark will be the other star attractions.

The Thomas and Uber Cup events were tweaked in 2010 and this year there will be 16 nations, four more than the previous edition, clubbed in four preliminary groups with two from each reaching the knockout stage.

The tournament will also witness the use of the recently-introduced Instant Review System for the first time as one of the four courts will be equipped with the hawk-eye technology, which will allow shuttlers two chances to challenge line calls in a match.

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