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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thomas Cup 2008 - Can China's Dominance be Broken?

This is part of a 3 part series on the Thomas Cup's predictions.

China has won the last 2 Thomas Cup competitions with relative ease. In the last two Thomas Cup grand finales, China has only dropped one match. This year, China is undeniably the favourite to retain its title again; with impressively deep resources in the Men Singles department, consisting of of the Super Trio of Lin Dan, Bao Chunlai and Chen Jin, complemented by the unusually powerful strength in its doubles department, led by the dynamic duo of Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng and the pair paired up just for the Thomas Cup - Guo Zhendong/Xie Zhongbo, any team would be hard pressed to beat China.

The traditional weakness of a Chinese team would be its Men's Doubles. Indeed, it is speculated that China lost many a Thomas Cup tie, even with Men's Singles legends such as Yang Yang and Zhao Jianhua, only because of its weakness. In the late 1980s till the early 1990s, China managed to break its jinx through the pair of Li Yongbo/Tian Bingyi. Now, its appears that China's Men's Doubles teams are anything but weak: Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng have already established themselves as a reliable and strong pair, while the newly paired Guo Zhengdong/Xie Zhongbo are ready to replace Sang Yang/Zheng Bo as China's 2nd Men's Doubles team, and are rocketing through the rankings. So with such strength and depth in both Men Singles and Doubles department, it naturally begs the question: Who can steal the crown from China this year?

What many countries are currently striving for, in my opinion, is to be seeded second in the upcoming Thomas Cup finals. Currently, Indonesia holds the upper hand by marginally being seeded 2nd. Obviously, China will be seeded first, and by being seeded second, that country can avoid meeting China before the grand finale. Currently, the race is between Malaysia and Indonesia to become the second seeded pair. Indonesia are banking on their trio of Taufik Hidayat, Sony Dwi Kuncoro and Simon Santoso, plus their number one Men's Doubles pair Markis Kido/Hedra Setiawan. With the sudden improvement in their number 2 pair - Luluk Hadiyanto/Alvent Yulianto, Indonesia appears to be a formidable team to be reckoned with. On the other hand, Malaysia have to rely on their first Singles Lee Chong Wei and their power in doubles department, led by Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong and Choong Tan Fook/Lee Wan Wah. In addition to this, the recent upsurge of super veteran Wong Choong Hann, plus the relatively (that is, in relation to their performance in individual events) strong team players of Lee Tsuen Seng and Hafiz Hashim, Malaysia could come and surprise everyone.

Obviously, there is no question that China will make the finals. The real question is who will join them in the finals? I have made a list of possible scenarios:




Men's Singles 1
Lin Dan vs. Lee Chong Wei

A match that couldeasily go either way. Malaysian hopes will be on world number 2 to upset world number 1 Lin. If Lee fails to do so, Malayisa's hopes could well go down the drain. A blastful opener, guranteed to draw much attention.


Men's Doubles 1
Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong vs. Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng

It will be a mystery till a Malaysian pair takes to the court as to who will represent Malaysia in the first Doubles. Will Rexy opt for the experience of Choong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah, or will he go by the rankings? Although Choong Tan Fook/Lee Wan Wah can certainly beat Cai and Fu, I still think Rexy will opt for the more formidable pair of Koo and Tan while reserving Choong and Lee for later. This will be another blastful encounter that many will be looking forward to. If Lee Chong Wei beats Lin Dan, and then Koo and Tan beat Cai and Fu, Malaysia will then be off to a very very postive start. Still early to speculate as Koo and Tan's form appear to be seesawing.


Men's Singles 2
Wong Choong Hann vs. Chen Jin

Although Bao Chunlai is ranked higher than Chen Jin, Li Yongbo will be eager to field Chen Jin against Wong Choong Hann. This is due to the fact the Wong has beaten Bao Chunlai numerous times before, and Choong Hann seems to perform better against Bao. With all the pressure mounted on Bao, Li Yongbo will, in my opinion go for the power of Chen Jin, who has not lost to Choong Hann recently, albeit coming close. Choong Hann continues to wow the badminton community, with upsets against many higher ranked players such as Chen Hong and Chunlai. It will be tricky encounter, but there is no reason why Malaysia's super veteran cannot pull through.


Men's Doubles 2
Guo Zhengdong/Xie Zhongbo vs. Choong Tan Fook/Lee Wan Wah

If Malaysia is to win this tie, she has to wrap it up here. Choong Tan Fook/Lee Wan Wah recently lost to Guo and Xie in the China Open semifinals, although Choong and Lee were injured and sick. If you asked me 4 months ago who would win, I would confidently say Choong and Lee. However, if you ask me now who would win, I cannot tell you. It is absolutely imperative for Malaysia to win this tie.


Men's Singles 3
Hafiz Hashim vs. Bao Chunlai

Obviously, Bao holds the upper handin this match. Although Hafiz is known as a strong team player, I don't think he has enough stamina and mental strength to defeat the world number 2. However, if this Thomas Cup grand finale progresses to this stage, Bao's main weakness, his weak mental strength, might be a factor. in this case, Malaysia's hope might not be all lost as Hafiz might shwsome of the form that won him his All England title, something many Malaysians have failed to achieve.


Stay tuned for the next 2 parts.

1 comment:

Herbert Wong said...

don't believed countries are allowed to field whoever they want to field in the order of play. They have to follow their rankings. Hence in your scenario, LeeWW/ChoongTF will be 1st doubles not KKK/TBH. Similarly Chna cannot field Chen Jin as 2nd singles & Bao in 3rd as their rankings are the other way round.