Dubai: Some of Asia’s and world’s best will be in action as the battle lines are drawn for the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship, to begin at the Expo City-Dubai Exhibition Centre on Tuesday. A historic six days of intense action is to be witnessed, which also marks the first time the UAE will be taking part in the continental championship.
Defending champions China and runners-up in 2019 edition Japan have been given the top two seeds while Malaysia and Indonesia have got their rightful places in the groupings as total of 17 teams vie for top honours.
Indonesia will start as one of the top favourites to grab the title. They are led by men’s world No 2 Jonathan Christie and world No 3 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who is not ready to take anything for granted despite having such high-quality in their squad.
“We are hoping to do our best as it is a Team championship. Every tournament is important for us and let’s see what we can do for this week,” Ginting told Gulf News in an exclusive interview as he was enjoying the Emirati hospitality at a special event organised by Beyond Boundaries at a desert camp in Dubai on Monday.
China are also keen to grab the opportunity and have laid a lot of importance to defend their crown.
“It’s a big tournament and we pay a lot of attention and have very high value for this tournament. We have made lot of preparations and aim to defend our title. And added incentive is the qualification for Sudirman Cup, so we go all out to win the title,” China’s top men’s player Zhao Jun Peng told on the eve of the event.
Energetic young team
India, who are eighth in the rankings, will be led by P.V. Sindhu and H.S. Prannoy. Team India will be eager to win the championship and take the rankings higher as they enter the qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Prannoy, ninth-ranked in the world, told Gulf News that he was looking forward to the event and was hoping that the victory in this championship will change India’s methods in the years to come, something similar to what happened before winning the Thomas Cup.
“Excited to play for the first time in Dubai and team events are always exciting. It’s important to play as a team, so the main focus is to get the entire team together and share as much knowledge as possible among us and help each other in playing the tournament. We are definitely looking to win this championship,” said the 30-year-old veteran. “I am the oldest of the group and we have a very good bunch of youngsters with plenty of energy. I think that’s what you need in a team event.”
Two-time Olympic medallist Sindhu is returning after four-month layoff and will be keen to find her rhythm as she targets world No 1 spot and the Olympic qualification.
“Firstly, I want to play well and win some tournaments. My ultimate aim would be get a medal at Paris 2024, but before that, short-term goals for this year I would say Asian Games and, of course, the World Championships in August. I hope to do well and win a few tournaments,” the 2019 world champion told during her visit to Gulf News headquarters last month.
“Asia Badminton Mixed Team Championship is extremely important. Team event is something where it’s a different atmosphere altogether and one needs to play and support equally as a team. It’s always nice to have events like these, and there’s also ranking when you get a few points. Each event is very important and it’s going to be a hectic year,” the 27-year-old added.
Regional teams in focus
Some of the regional teams like Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and UAE will be taking part in this edition as the Asia Badminton is targeting a growth in West Asia.
“Badminton will be capturing this region and the world as well. Asia is the power house of the world and top players will be competing in the tournament. All top Asian countries, India, China, Japan and Korea, will be represented,” said Moosa Nashid Secretary General of Badminton Asia.
For the young UAE team, who have a mix of Emiratis and expatriates with an average age of 15, it is a dream come true as the 16-member squad will be waiting with bated breath to take to the court against Malaysia in Group B opener in the second session on Tuesday.
“It will be a good start and a good experience for the UAE players. We have a tough group, but we feel we have a good chance against Kazakhstan. It’s a historic moment to play their first tournament in the UAE as a team,” Jaffer Ebrahim, BWF’s Dubai Badminton Development Manager, said. “It’s just the start as we are confident that they would do well with the experience gained from this tournament. It’s a dream come true and it is definitely going to have a big impact on their future, playing such a tournament and carrying the country flag means a lot for the youngsters.”
The UAE team was picked after a selection tournament. Talking about the popularity and the growth of badminton in UAE, Ebrahim is confident that the sport will grow from strength to strength as there is a huge number of Emirati participation.
“UAE has a strong school programme with almost 100 schools involved. There is a large Emirati participation in all the emirates with plenty of opportunities to play the sport at schools level. Also we have Al Nasr Club, the oldest club in the UAE, Sharjah Ladies Club, where 300 women are playing, Kalba Club, Abu Dhabi Racquets Club. It’s a long journey and takes a lot of planning. Now about 3,000 kids are playing in the school and clubs with 12,000 active player participation in 45 academies and 300 certified coaches in UAE,” Ebrahim added.
Women: Maryam Al Blooshi, Ghadeer Ali Al Tahri, Sanika Dhawan Gurav, Taabia Khan, Aleena Qathun, Akansha Raj, Navonika Rajesh, Madhumitha Sundarapandian.
Opening day action
The opening day will witness top teams, including defending champions China, kicking off the action in their respective groups. China will open against Uzbekistan in Group A, while other top-seeded teams Japan (Group D) and Indonesia (Group C) take on Pakistan and Syria in their opening ties.
While three of the groups (A, B, D) will witness a team playing three ties each, the Group C will have its teams playing four ties each before two teams advance to the quarter-finals.
Top two teams from each of the four groups will make it to the knockout stage, which begins on Day 4 of the Championship (February 17).
The semi-finals will be played on Saturday while the finals are set to take place on Sunday.
Group A: China, Korea, Singapore and Uzbekistan.
Group B: Malaysia, India, Kazakhstan and UAE.
Group C: Indonesia, Thailand, Bahrain, Syria and Lebanon.
Group D: Japan, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Pakistan.