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Thomas and Uber Cup finals delight in Thailand in showcase for badminton

The Japanese team walk out to the court at the Uber Cup in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Raphaël Sachetat)
by William Kings, AIPS Badminton Commisson

Bangkok, May 31 - There were two trophies but three winners at a memorable TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2018. Japan won the women’s Uber Cup team event, while China won the men’s Thomas Cup for the 10th time in a thrilling final with Japan.

Thai silver - But the third ‘gold’ should go to Thailand for their organisation of this eight-day tournament at Bangkok’s Impact Arena. The Thai women celebrated the first time the Uber Cup had come to Thailand in style by taking the silver medal behind Japan and it was richly deserved by head coach Rexy Mainaky’s team after the way they overcame 14-time winners China 3-2 in a marathon semi-final.

Japanese dominance - They were no match for Japan in the final as they lost 3-0 with all the contests finishing in straight games. But they still had the satisfaction of reaching their first final and denying China a place in the final for the first time since their debut in 1984.

No-one currently has the strength in depth Japan can offer, but there is no denying that Thailand rose to the occasion. The support of the 8,300-strong crowd in the semi-final will live in the memory, especially the way they roared on every stroke from the two players in Ratchanok Intonan’s opening win over Chen Yufei. I will never forget the site of their players hurdling the advertising boards (well, trying to) to join in a victory celebration at the end of the semi-final.

Excellence of BAT - But it wasn’t just the Thai women who excelled. Credit off court must go to the Badminton Association of Thailand, whose staff also rose to the occasion to play a starring role. BAT’s presentation of the two finals embraced the Badminton World Federation’s desire for these major tournaments to be more than just action on court.

New showcase for the sport - The introduction to the two finals was exhilarating and innovative in the way the teams for both the Thomas Cup and the Uber Cup Finals emerged to the delight of the crowd to herald the start of the contests. A stunning light show and then a screen rising to reveal the teams in turn before a smoke haze erupted around them. For drama and excitement, sport doesn’t come much better than this and once again badminton has taken a step forward in how to showcase the big events.

Tenacious Chinese - It must have been hugely satisfying for Japan coach Park Joo Bong that his men’s team also took the silver medal in the Thomas Cup to add to their Uber Cup gold. After Kenta Momota’s surprise win over Olympic and double world champion Chen Long, Japan could have taken the final to a deciding contest if only Keigo Sonoda and Yuta Watanabe had made the most of two match points against Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen. At 20-18 in the third game they looked sure to take the final to a deciding fifth contest.

No Lin Dan - Instead the tenacious Chinese turned it round to give China a 3-1 victory 17-21 21-19 22-20 in 70 minutes and sadly denied the finals day fans the chance to see the legendary Lin Dan come on to court for what would have been a deciding rubber. They only saw SuperDan in action in two group matches – China won all their group games 5-0 – and his services were not needed in the 3-0 quarter-final win over Chinese Taipei and the 3-1 semi-final win over Indonesia.

Streamlining the group stages ? For all that he still received the biggest cheer when he was the last player in the Chinese team to receive his gold medal. But then there were a lot of golden wonders during this splendid advert for team badminton. If only BWF could find a way of streamlining the group stages. Too many one-sides contests and the inevitable over-long sessions. Perhaps all contests should finish once a team reaches three points and the final group standings results using football’s equivalent of goal won and lost, results between two equal teams, or even going down to total points won and lost.

Surely, part of the fun of going to a badminton event is to have a beer or a coffee afterwards with your friends so you can toast a great night out and debate who you enjoyed seeing most. Sadly, after-midnight finishes went beyond closing time at the nearby bars and with the nightspots of Bangkok 40 minutes away!

Too predictable - In every group the only wins the third-placed teams achieved were against the teams finishing fourth. In other words, the outcomes were too predictable. Algeria, for instance, must have been very proud to be appearing in their first Thomas Cup finals and you always want to see the smaller nations have their day in the sun. But the reality is that they were never going to have the quality or strength in depth to be able to be a match for the experienced campaigners. After all, paying customers part with good money to see badminton at its most competitive.

But that’s a discussion for another time. Right now I’ll simply raise a glass to a great tournament. Cheers, Thailand. Thanks for the memories.

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