NANNING, China (XINHUA) - The Sudirman Cup, badminton's biennial world mixed team championship, kicked off on Sunday (May 19) with Indonesia beating England 4-1 in the curtain-raiser in the elite group, as the South-east Asian giants bid for a second title 30 years after winning the maiden edition on home ground.
Singapore, however, face an uphill task to improve on their 14th placing from 2017 after losing a tight battle to Canada 3-2 in Group 2B.
The tie hinged on the men's doubles, with Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Loh Kean Hean trailing by a game but leading Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Nyl Yakura 19-16 in the second. However, they squandered four game points to lose 27-25.
Earlier, Chrisnanta had partnered Tan Wei Han to win the opening mixed doubles against Duncan Yao and Josephine Wu 21-13, 21-11. Then Canadian Michelle Li beat Yeo Jia Min 22-20, 21-15 in the women's singles before Loh Kean Yew defeated Brian Yang 21-18, 21-15 in the men's singles to regain the lead for Singapore.
Canada levelled the tie when Rachel Honderich and Kristen Tsai easily beat Jin Yujia and Lim Ming Hui 21-13, 21-10.
"We knew Singapore was a tough team, but we knew we had a chance, and we knew we had to win this. We'd like to come out of our pool in the top two, and hopefully we can win the group. We had to be ready for a lot of the flat stuff because that's the Asian style and I think we did that well. I was nervous at 18 in the second game and I had to come back from that," a joyous Yakura told the Badminton World Federation website.
The defeat means Singapore have a tough challenge to finish in the top half of the group as they face favourites Germany on Monday night.
China, who have won a record 10 times but were losing finalists two years ago, coasted past a young Malaysian side missing former world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei 5-0 in their Group 1D opener on Sunday evening. The team feature Rio Olympic champion Chen Long and All England Open winner Chen Yufei as well as debutants Du Yue, Han Chengkai and Han Yue, despite a striking absence of former double Olympic champion Lin Dan.
The hosts want an 11th victory to boost their morale ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, but face an uphill race against a bunch of rivals.
Japan, still seeking for their first Sudirman Cup, are among the hottest favourites as it boasts an envious squad of top-ranked Kento Momoto in men's singles, second-ranked Nozomi Okuhara and fourth-ranked Akane Yamaguchi in women's singles, and three of the top four women's doubles pairs in the world.
They also won the Thomas Cup in 2014, and the Uber Cup in 2018, the other two badminton team events for men and women respectively.
Indonesia are clearly harbouring their ambition with Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in the men's singles after victories in the Jakarta Asian Games, and top-ranked Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo in the men's doubles.
However, their mission will much depend on 19-year-old Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in the women's singles after her unbeaten record in the Uber Cup.
On Sunday morning, the team coasted to a 4-0 lead in Group 1B before England's Adcock couple pairing of Chris and Gabrielle beat Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti for a consolation point.
Both Chinese Taipei, who edged out Hong Kong 3-2 on Sunday night, and India are strong in their women's singles. Malaysia have reliable men's and mixed doubles, while holders South Korea are pinning hopes on their young shuttlers as sixth-ranked Son Wan-ho in the men's singles and 10th-ranked Sung Ji-hyun in the women's singles are both injured.
The Sudirman Cup is named after Dick Sudirman, the founder of the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI), and features five matches - one each of men's and women's singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
The eight-day tournament features 337 players from 31 countries and regions after Kenya withdrew.
Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, also becomes the fifth Chinese city to host the badminton sports gala after Beijing, Guangzhou, Qingdao and Dongguan.
Only teams in Group 1 are eligible to vie for the trophy while teams in other groups only fight for classification. The number of teams competing in the elite group has jumped from the original six in 1989 to eight in 2005 and to 12 in 2011.
During its 30-year history, only three countries have ever won the Cup. Besides Indonesia's inaugural victory, South Korea won four times - in the second and third editions, together with other two titles that split China's 10 winning crowns into two four-consecutive and six-consecutive streaks.
Yet, the Cup has never been won by a non-Asian country, with Denmark being the only European team who came close to winning it in 1999 and 2011.