NANNING, China, May 19 (Xinhua) -- The Sudirman Cup is to kick off hours later with the curtain-raiser between Indonesia and England in the elite group here on Sunday.
The eight-day Cup, a biennial world mixed team badminton championship, features 337 best players from 31 countries and regions after the absence of Iran.
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.
China, which has won the Cup for a record of 10 times during its 30-year history, will play its group opener against Malaysia in the evening, featuring 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 absentee of former double Olympic champion Lin Dan.
Playing host to the Cup, China is hoping for a record-breaking 11th victory to boost the morale ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, but faces an uphill race against a bunch of rivals.
Japan, still seeking for its first Sudirman Cup, is among the hottest favorites as it boasts of an envious squad of top-ranked Kento Momoto in men's singles, 2nd-ranked Nozomi Okuhara and 4th-ranked Akane Yamaguchi in women's singles, and three of the top four women's doubles in the world.
It 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 is clearly harbouring its 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, its mission will much depend on 19-year-old Gregoria Mariska Tunjung in the women's singles after her unbeaten record in the Uber Cup.
Both Chinese Taipei and India are strong in their women's singles, Malaysia has reliable men's and mixed doubles, while South Korea is pinning hopes on its young shuttlers after the injury missing of both sixth-ranked Son Wan-ho in the men's singles and 10th-ranked Sung Ji-hyun in the women's singles.
The Sudirman Cup named after Dick Sudirman, the founder of the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI), will play five matches of both men's and women's singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Only teams in Group 1, or elite group, are eligible to vie for the trophy while teams in other groups only fight for classification. And the number of teams competing in Group 1 see a triple jump, 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. Indonesia won it once as hosts for the initial edition, South Korea four times in the 2nd and 3rd 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 country that came close to winning it in 1999 and 2011.