This may be India’s best chance of making Thomas Cup semis: Aparna Popat

The Indian Olympian believes a semi-final berth in the Thomas Cup may be the shot in the arm that men’s badminton in the country needs

By Deepti Patwardhan
Picture by Badmintonphoto | Courtesy of BWF

The Indian team is on the verge of a breakthrough as they take on China in the quarterfinals of the Thomas Cup in Aarhus, Denmark, on Thursday. India has never gone past the last eight in the premier men’s badminton competition, and Indian Olympian Aparna Popat believes this may be India’s best opportunity to overcome the barrier.

“If there’s any chance, then it’s tomorrow (against China),” Popat, who represented India at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.

The Indian team has not lost a single match in this edition of Thomas Cup so far. They defeated Netherlands 5-0 in the opener and beat Tahiti by the same margin on Tuesday to enter the quarterfinal of the Thomas Cup for the first time since 2010. Though India have struggled in the men’s team competition before this, they may start as slight favourites against a new-look Chinese team on Thursday.

“It really depends on how the players are looking at it. I hope they have had enough viewing of these new players before they go into Thursday’s tie and they make use of this opportunity,” said Popat. “I just hope it happens because men’s badminton (in India) needs this boost.”

Even though badminton in India has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade or so, the major accolades have been raked in by the women. Two in particular: Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. While Nehwal became the first Indian player to win an Olympic medal by clinching a bronze at London 2012, Sindhu became the only Indian female athlete to win two Olympic medals (silver at Rio 2016 and bronze at Tokyo 2020).

While Indian male players, particularly Kidambi Srikanth, have had their moments in the sun, they have largely stayed in the huge shadows cast by Nehwal and Sindhu. Srikanth failed to qualify for Tokyo 2020 while B Sai Praneeth lost both his group matches on his Olympic debut in Tokyo. India’s leading male players will be hoping to regain confidence by beating China and getting India to their first ever semifinals at the Thomas Cup.

Former Indian shuttler Aparna Popat

The country’s campaign in Uber Cup, the women’s team competition, however came to an end on Wednesday as they lost 5-0 to Thailand in the quarterfinals.

Given that Sindhu did not participate in the event and Nehwal had to pull out early due to injury, it was a creditable result by a young Indian team.

“It will give them a lot of confidence, because they have done it on their own merit. There were hardly any seniors in the team,” said the 43-year-old.

“If it was an individual open tournament, one loss and you are sitting out for the rest of the week. But it’s not so here and that’s the biggest advantage for juniors playing a tournament like this. When you are young, and you play in a team you learn much more. There are people with you, players with you who have the same goal.”

On Wednesday, India fielded Malvika Bansod (20), Aditi Bhatt (18) and Tasnim Mir (16) in the singles matches. And even though the youngsters could not win a point for India, they will be richer for the experience.

“They haven’t played the best of the best. But they have played decent players with much more experience than them. Just looking at the game they played, I think they were able to match them in terms of speed and fitness. They are not scared,” concluded Popat.