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Wednesday January 16, 2013

Lee a title shoo-in, but fans want to see doubles success too

Zulfadli Zulkifli returning the shuttle to Hong Kong’s
Wei Nan in the qualifying tournament yesterday. Zulfaldi won 21-13, 21-11 to
reach the main draw. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star Zulfadli Zulkifli returning the shuttle to Hong Kong’s Wei Nan in the qualifying tournament yesterday. Zulfaldi won 21-13, 21-11 to reach the main draw. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star

MALAYSIAN OPEN BADMINTON CHAMPIONSHIPS
PUTRA STADIUM, BUKIT JALIL (Jan 15-20)

IT’S a shoo-in for Lee Chong Wei to win his record ninth men’s singles title at the Maybank Malaysian Open, which begins at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil today.

But what the Malaysian fans want is more than one title on home turf. They hope to see men’s doubles stars Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong and mixed doubles pair Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying make it a glorious week for the nation.

Malaysia have been starved of a Super Series success in the men’s doubles for the past two years. The last triumph came through Kien Keat-Boon Heong at the Malaysian Open in 2010.

National doubles chief coach Tan Kim Her believes it is time for Kien Keat-Boon Heong to win back the fans.

“It will certainly boost the morale of the other doubles players if Kien Keat-Boon Heong can win the title again. It will also inspire the back-up pairs to follow in their footsteps and show that the doubles department can also produce results,” said Kim Her.

“Keat Keat-Boon Heong have been showing improvements of late. All they need is confidence to pull off the task. The competition is still an open affair although pairs from South Korea and Denmark have achieved better results,” added Kim Her.

Kien Keat-Boon Heong, the world No. 2, will take on Indonesians Yonathan Suryatama Dasuki-Hendra Gunawan in the first round. They are in the same quarter with compatriots Lim Khim Wah-Goh V Shem and Hoon Thien How-Tan Wee Kiong.

Malaysians Mohd Razif Abdul Latif (left) and
Vountus Indra Mawan celebrate after clinching a berth in the men’s doubles
main draw. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star Malaysians Mohd Razif Abdul Latif (left) and Vountus Indra Mawan celebrate after clinching a berth in the men’s doubles main draw. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star

Kien Keat-Boon Heong’s main challengers for the title, however, will be reigning Korean Open champions Lee Yong-dae-Ko Sung-hyun in the top half of the draw.

“Playing against their team-mates will be tricky but if Kien Keat-Boon Heong make it, they may face Yong-dae-Sung-hyun in the semi-finals. This will be a perfect chance to redeem themselves,” said Kim Her.

In the mixed doubles, Peng Soon-Liu Ying are the top seeds in the absence of the world No. 1 Xu Chen-Ma Jin of China and world No. 2 Ahmad Tantowi-Lilyana Natsir of Indonesia.

But the Malaysians still have several strong opponents to be wary like second seeds Joachim Fischer Nielsen-Christinna Peder­sen of Denmark and China’s Qiu Zihan-Zhao Yunlei and Zhang Nan-Tang Jinhua.

“Peng Soon-Liu Ying have done well to put our mixed doubles on the world map. If both of them are in the best of condition, they can bring plenty of cheers to the Malaysian fans,” said Kim Her.

While the two doubles titles are not a certainty, the men’s title is virtually in the bag.

Without the top Chinese players in the field and with only Kenichi Tago of Japan being his main challenger, it should be another rich pickings for the 30-year-old Chong Wei. The top prize is worth US$30,000 (RM90,000).

Chong Wei got off to a blistering start to the season last Sunday by winning the Korean Open. It was worth US$75,000 (RM227,000).

Last year, he equalled the achievement of the late Wong Peng Soon by winning his eighth Malaysian Open.

Based on current form, Chong Wei looks untouchable again. He begins his campaign against former world junior champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark today.

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