Tourney set for epic battles despite missing several top stars

SHAH ALAM: Several top stars will not be gracing the Asia Team Championships which gets under way today at the Setia Alam Convention Centre but it is still set to be fiercely contested.

In the men’s team competition, China are the favourites to capture the title but will face a tough challenge from the likes of Indonesia and India. China have surprisingly never won the men’s title since the tournament’s inception in 2016.

This time, the team could end their drought despite electing to leave out their top two singles (Shi Yuqi, Li Shifeng) and doubles players (Liang Weikeng-Wang Chang, Liu Yuchen-Ou Xuanyi).

China’s strength of depth is such that the team still look more than capable of mounting a strong challenge with the likes of world No. 16 Weng Hongyang, world No. 17 Lu Guangzu (singles) and doubles pairs He Jiting-Ren Xiangyu (No. 14) and Chen Boyang-Liu Yi (No. 27).

Meanwhile, Indonesia will be out to maintain their great record in the tournament.

The team have reached the finals in all the editions, capturing the title in 2016, 2018 and 2020 and finished runners-up to Malaysia in 2022.

India have selected their strongest possible line-up led by world No. 1 and reigning Asian Games gold medallists Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty and will be out to lay down a marker ahead of their Thomas Cup title defence.

India and China are set to go head-to-head early as both have been drawn in Group A along with Hong Kong which looks to be the toughest group on paper.

Defending champions Malaysia will also be fielding a strong team with the likes of world No. 10 Lee Zii Jia and world No. 5 Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and will have the extra motivation of playing at home again.

“Teams will not only be vying for spots in the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals in this tournament,” said national men’s singles coach Hendrawan.

“Players will also be fighting for ranking points towards qualification for the Paris Olympics.

“Many teams have also selected youngsters, who will be out to take this opportunity to prove their worth.

“Team pride will also be at stake like in any other team tournament and for us, it’s the pride of playing at home as well,” added Hendrawan.

The tournament also acts as the qualifiers for the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals from April 27-May 5 in Chengdu, China but men’s and women’s teams that are ranked in the top four in the World Team rankings are already assured of their spots, leaving the other teams to fight for places.

China and Indonesia have already confirmed their spots in the Thomas Cup as hosts and defending champions respectively.

If both teams make it to the semi-finals of the Asia team meet, two additional spots will open up for the Thomas Cup.

Japan and Malaysia, who are seeded third and fourth respectively, have also all but qualified for the prestigious team meet.

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