Ratchanok-led team can go far in Uber Cup, says national coach
Thailand badminton coach Rexy Mainaky is more confident of his women’s team progressing further than the men as the prestigious Thomas and Uber Cups, which start on Sunday at the Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani.
The home women’s team looks strong, led by world No 4 Ratchanok Intanon and No 11 Nitchaon Jindapol, and backede up by the doubles world No 8 pairing of Jongkolphan Kittitharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai.
Mainaky, the Atlanta Olympic men’s doubles gold medallist from Indonesia, is highly confident his girls will dominate the Uber Cup’s Group B, which also comprises Taiwan, Germany and Hong Kong.
“We have the chance to reach the quarter-finals or go even further depending on the draw [the draw will be made after the group stage],” said the 50-year-old, whose women launch their campaign against Germany at 2pm today. The matches are being broadcast live on True Sport HD 667 and 668.
While Mainaky remains highly positive about his Uber Cup team, he is more realistic about the men’s hopes in the Thomas Cup.
They have been drawn in a tough group with 13-time champions Indonesia, two-time runners-up South Korea and Canada.
“Our Thomas team comprises young players and we have to play tough teams like 13-time champions Indonesia and South Korea. If we can pull out a win over South Korea [today], then we stand a chance to reach the next round,” added Mainaky.
Both events consist of 16 teams divided into four group of four, with the top two in each group qualifying for the knock-out stage.
World No 25 Khosit Phetpradab, Thailand’s No 1 Thomas Cup player, admitted to feeling the pressure from the expectations of the home fans.
“We want to live up to the expectations, which brings pressure. We will try to turn it into an extra boost and fight as hard as we can out there,” said the 23-year-old from Chiang Mai.
Due to her calibre as the former world no 1 and former world champion, Thai women’s No 1 Ratchanok will also carry a big burden on her shoulders in her first home event since winning the Thailand Open last June.
“Everybody in the team is working hard and is inspired to produce great results in front of the home fans,” said Ratchanok, who has one title under her belt from the Malaysian Masters this year.
Viktor Axelsen of Denmark
Men’s world No 1 Viktor Axelsen is determined to lead Denmark to a successful title defence campaign after a surprise 3-2 win over Indonesia in the 2016 final, which made his side the first from Europe to win the Thomas Cup.
The 23-year-old world champion in 2017 will be making his second appearance since returning from an ankle injury which kept him on the sidelines since January.
He made his comeback in the European Championships just last month … and duly took the gold medal.
“Winning the European Championships title gives me confidence coming into this tournament,” said Axelsen.
“It will be tough to win again as there are many strong teams but if we keep doing the same things we did last time, we can defend our title.”
Denmark, in Group D, will start their campaign tomorrow against Algeria.
Olympic singles gold medalist Chen long of China
The Danes will also face a real test on Wednesday against five-time champions Malaysia, who feature former world No 1 Lee Chong Wei and rising star Leong Jun Hao, the 2017 Asian Junior Championships gold medallist and 2017 World Junior Championships runner-up.
Nine-time champions China are the heavy favourites to win and have two Olympic gold medallists – Lin Dan and Chen Long – in their line-up.
They are in Group A along with Australia, France and India.
Since 2004, China have dominated, winning the biennial tournament five times.