Badminton’s elite will look to gain a mental edge before the Olympics in the highly charged atmosphere of the Thomas and Uber Cups world team championships in China, beginning tomorrow.
While qualification for London is already decided, the highly prized biennial event is one of the last opportunities to inflict psychological wounds, and replicates the team setting of Olympic competition.
Formidable hosts China will be hot favourites for both the men’s and women’s titles in Wuhan, but rivals will be queuing up to give them a bloody nose before they enter the biggest stage of all in July.
“This is a dress rehearsal for London,” said Raphael Sachetat, chief editor of online badminton magazine Badzine International.
“Psychological advantage in a recent confrontation is always a big help before a major event like the Olympic Games.”
In the week-long, concurrent men’s and women’s events, 12 nations from around the world are split into four groups of three, with the top two going through to the knock-out stages.
In the men’s Thomas Cup, only three nations have won since 1948: Malaysia, Indonesia and China. The same three are the top contenders this year, alongside a tricky South Korean side and the doughty but ageing Danes. However China, under long-time coach Li Yongbo, remain the team to beat as they chase their fifth successive crown – and this time, with the advantage of their baying home support.
Two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, China dropped just one match en route to the title, and they will be looking to stamp their authority again starting with their group fixtures against Indonesia and England.
It’s also likely to be a last appearance at the event for world and Olympic champion Lin “Super” Dan, badminton’s most decorated player, who has already said he will take it easier after London.
Chen Long and Chen Jin, third and fourth in the world, suggest China’s supremacy could continue beyond the Lin Dan era, although neither has threatened the same kind of long-running dominance.
Meanwhile world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei is searching for form as he bids to wrest the Olympic crown from arch-rival Lin Dan. Injury-hampered Chong Wei, 29, has had a patchy year with losses in India and at the All-England Championships.
In the women’s game China have a point to prove after South Korea dramatically dethroned the six-time defending champions two years ago.
China’s three Wangs – Yihan, Xin, Shixian – who occupy the top three spots in the world rankings, will be looking to avenge the 3-1 final defeat and stake an early claim on Olympic glory.
Among China’s main challengers are India, who will be pinning their hopes on a top individual performance from their charismatic star – world No. 5 Saina Nehwal.
The tournament is contested as best-of-five singles and doubles matches in the group stage, falling to best-of-three in the knock-out stages. It starts today and finishes on May 27.