Badminton: Japanese women start strongly as team bid for Thomas and Uber Cup double

Nozomi Okuhara of Japan hitting a return shot against Louisa Ma of Australia during their Thomas and Uber Cup match in Bangkok on May 20, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Japan's women dominated Australia 5-0 to get the nation's quest for a Thomas and Uber Cup badminton double off to a flying start in Bangkok on Sunday.

Women's singles world champion Nozomi Okuhara crushed Louisa Ma 21-6, 21-6 in the second singles to secure the winning point in their opening Group A encounter.

Japan are favourites for the Uber Cup and showed why when doubles pair Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi then blew away Australia's Khoo Lee Yen and Ann-Louise Slee 21-3, 21-4 in the second doubles, as the top seeds ran out comfortable winners.

The world's 16 top nations compete for the men's Thomas Cup and women's Uber Cup every two years, with matches comprising three singles and two doubles.

While China's women have dominated, winning 14 times including the past three editions, Japan have emerged with a shot at taking home both trophies at this year's edition in Thailand.

Japan's men are aiming to repeat their 2014 Thomas Cup triumph but have a tough task against the likes of traditional powerhouses China and reigning champions Denmark, who became the first non-Asian winners in 2016.

Denmark boast world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen but will be hampered by the absence of doubles star Carsten Mogensen, who was been ruled out with sickness.

Japan are led by the former world No. 2 Kento Momota, who shocked China's Olympic gold medallist Chen Long to win the Asia Championships title last month.

Meanwhile Indonesia, another nation with an outside chance of glory, made a great start as their men beat Canada 5-0 in the Thomas Cup Group B.

France's Ronan Labar predicted a wide-open event after his country got off the mark 4-1 against India in Group A of the men's competition.

"Like always a lot of Asian teams are strong and always tough, but I think in Europe and especially in France we are much more consistent than in past years," he told AFP after winning his doubles with Thom Gicquel 21-10, 21-12 against India's Arun George and Sanyam Shukla.

"In general in the badminton world the level is more close now... It's really open," he added. "It can be one team winning and the next day it can be another one."

The finals will be played next weekend.

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