The Uber Cup11 April, 2016
The Uber Cup, or the Women’s World Team Badminton Championship, is the second oldest world team championship event in world badminton.
The Uber Cup is the counterpart to the Thomas Cup (the Men’s World Team Badminton Championships) and the event is today, hosted in conjunction with the Thomas Cup. The Uber Cup is slightly younger and the tournaments for two Cups (Thomas Cup / Uber Cup) were not always played together.
The idea for the Uber Cup was conceived in 1950 by members of the New Zealand delegation to the International Badminton Federation (IBF). At the time, the Thomas Cup had only been played once but there was a lag due to concerns with financing the tournament so the first Uber Cup competition actually began in 1956 and the finals were played in 1957 in Lytham St Annes, in Lancashire, England.
The Uber Cup was designed and presented by legendary badminton player, Betty Uber. The winner of over 13 All England titles in the previous two decades, Betty Uber lent the Cup her name and she also made the draw for the first competition, in 1956.
Familiar format, with a twist
The format for the Uber Cup competition was similar to that of the Thomas Cup. Even the number of teams for the inaugural edition was almost the same but while the Thomas Cup had doubled its participant numbers by 1954, the 1955-56 Uber Cup started with 11 competing associations, just one more than had competed for the first Thomas Cup – 1948 - 49.
At the outset, the ties themselves were shorter in the Uber Cup than in the Thomas Cup and were slightly weighted in favour of doubles. With three unique singles players and two unique doubles pairs, an Uber Cup tie involved only seven matches, as only the two doubles pairs played each pair from the opposing team. Each singles player played against only one opponent.
The ties changed with the Thomas Cup in the early 80s, briefly expanding to nine matches - which matched what the Thomas Cup had used since its inception – before both were trimmed down to five when the two events were combined in 1984.
The preliminary Geographical Zone tournaments were closer to being true regional qualifiers in the case of the Uber Cup than were their counterparts in the early Thomas Cup competitions. There were still cases of Pan Am teams playing qualifying rounds in Europe or of the Peoples Republic of China team playing in the Pan Am zone but the Uber Cup qualifying had fewer exceptions to the continental division of qualifying events, at least until 1984, when the regional qualifying system was replaced with Preliminary Events.
Up to and including the 1968-69 edition, the Uber Cup ended in a Challenge Round between the title holder and the winner of the Inter-Zone Finals. From the 1971-72 competition onward, the defending champions were required to begin playing from the start of Inter-Zone Finals, but they still qualified automatically and did not have to play in regional qualifying events.
Domination can wait
The Uber Cup may have begun the same way as the Thomas Cup, won three times in a row by the same team, but it took much longer to establish true dynasties in the women’s game. By the time China entered the fray in the early 1980s, the Uber Cup had already been won by three different teams and had had five different finalists. In contrast, the older Thomas Cup had had only two winners and four different finalists.
Of course, the delay in the onset of Asian domination was another feature. When the United States won the inaugural Uber Cup in 1956, it was the first time a team Cup had been won by a non-Asian team; however, the third consecutive win by the U.S., in 1963, marked the last time any of the IBF’s three main Cups left Asia.
Combined and conquered
Big changes came after the 1982 Uber Cup competition in Tokyo. The IBF made several alterations to the format for reasons that included saving the Uber Cup and increasing the number of participating associations.
The two main changes were that the Uber and Thomas Cups would share both a host and a calendar year. Both events became biennial, after being played once every three years for decades. Putting the Cup competitions in even-numbered years kept them from coinciding with the new IBF World Individual Badminton Championships.
Another major change was that the length of the tie for both competitions was reduced to five matches, from nine for the Thomas Cup and seven for all but one of the preceding Uber Cups.
The number of participating associations certainly went up with the new format. In 1984, the Uber Cup attracted an unprecedented 23 participating teams, just three shy of the previous best for the much older Thomas Cup.
But it wasn’t just the quantity that went up. China descended on the competition with a bang. They came to the Uber Cup finals with, among others, the World Champions in both singles and doubles and, like their men’s team had done at the Thomas Cup two years before, the Chinese women’s team won the Uber Cup in their first ever appearance. Making slightly less of an impact, but still significant, was that of Korea, after one disappointing outing in each of the preceding decades, Korea had returned to the competition for good, and with the Denmark Open women’s doubles champions on their team.
Defending champion Japan had also won on their first try, way back in 1966, but despite going on to win six titles in seven straight appearances in the Uber Cup final, in 1984, they did not even reach the semis and indeed did not return to the finals until over 30 years later, in 2014! In the meantime, China wasted no time in burying Japan’s records, reaching the finals 16 times in a row by 2014, when they finally met the second most successful team in Uber Cup history at the final stage.
The Chinese win over Japan in that 25th edition of the Uber Cup was the thirteenth title to establish a strong dynasty of women’s badminton. China’s reign was broken only three times. Korea finally won its first title in 2010, in the team’s sixth appearance in an Uber Cup final.
The Koreans relied on three first time wins over heavily favoured Chinese players to become the fifth BWF member association to lift the Cup. The real miracle, however, has to be the 1994 Uber Cup final, where the 2-all deadlock was broken in the final match by 14-year-old Mia Audina. She defeated China’s Zhang Ning, then 19, to give Indonesia its first Uber Cup title in nearly 20 years.
Uber Cup Results
|Year||Host City||Uber Cup Winner||Runner-up|
|1956-57||Lytham St Annes, ENG||United States||Denmark|
|1959-60||Philadelphia, USA||United States||Denmark|
|1962-63||Wilmington, USA||United States||England|
|1965-66||Wellington, NZL||Japan||United States|
|1984||Kuala Lumpur, MAS||China||England|
|1988||Kuala Lumpur, MAS||China||Korea|
|1992||Kuala Lumpur, MAS||China||Korea|
|2000||Kuala Lumpur, MAS||China||Denmark|
|2010||Kuala Lumpur, MAS||Korea||China|
|2014||New Delhi, IND||China||Japan|