THE Kuala Lumpur Racquet Club (KLRC) hosted a modest durian and ice kacang party in Petaling Jaya to celebrate the victory of the club’s player Zulfadli Zulkifli who lifted the Asian Junior title in Lucknow, India recently.
Present at the event were KLRC owner Datuk Seri Andrew Kam, Zulfadli’s father Zulkifli Sidek, mother Hanny Pranatyo and two younger brothers Zulfaiz and Zulhelmi.
The 18-year-old Zulfadli was in the limelight when he smashed his way to emerge as the first ever Malaysian junior shuttler and nail the boys’ singles title at the continental junior meet.
Andrew admitted they went through a roller-coaster ride before reaping the fruits of their hard-earned labour.
“We have a simple philosophy of emphasising on equality for players to show their promise. We knew he (Zulfadli) has the potential when he came under the club’s banner in 2007. The rocky patches were part and parcel of grooming a young player and strengthening the bond with him. It is about educating him to acquire the right frame of mind in vying for honours. It has been interesting and satisfying when we get the results. We share a common aim and we want him to do well for the country,” he said.
After donning the KLRC stripes at the end of 2007, the Los Angeles-born Zulfadli bagged the boys’ Under-15 and Under-17 singles titles at the United States Badminton Development Foundation (USBDF) Winter Junior International in his first trip back after his family left the US in 1994 and went on to complete the season with a bang with the boys’ Under-15 singles victory at the Singapore Cheers Youth International.
Last year, Zulfadli reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open Grand Prix as well as the last 16 at the Indonesia and Malaysia International Challenge.
Zulfadli, who is currently ranked 180th in the world, has also stretched his senior compatriots Liew Daren and Chong Wei Feng to three games in the opening round of the Malaysia and Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold respectively this year.
At the Australian Open Grand Prix Gold in April this year, he offered early resistance and troubled China’s Lu Yi before he retired in the third game due to injury.
Zulfadli’s father Zulkifli deserves the credit for the recent breakthrough in producing a junior champion.
“We have achieved one of our targets. We were pleased with his solid performances in the individual event. He was very sharp and combined deceptive strokes to subdue his opponents. Now, we have to ride on the momentum and prepare for the World Junior Championships (in Taiwan from Oct 28-Nov 6). Hadi will be suggesting new approaches to bring his (Zulfadli) game to a greater height,” said the delighted Zulkifli.
Zulfadli, a former student of SMK Damansara Utama, bounced back from a poor start suffering two defeats in the mixed team event when he lost to Indonesia’s Shesar Hiren Rhustavito in the semi-finals and also went down to Huang Yuxiang of China in the final at the recent Asian Junior Championships campaign.
It was third-time lucky for Zulfadli in his bid to secure the title in the boys’ singles individual contest after he failed to clear the quarter-finals in 2009 and semi-finals in 2010.
Zulfadli said he was glad that he prevailed and chalked up a memorable victory that he would cherish for a long time.
“Going into the tournament, I was in good shape and injury-free. I felt that I had a good chance to shine. In the team event, I was penalised for my service several times. The umpire almost flashed a yellow card and warned me for showing my disapproval in questioning the service judge’s decision. The setback affected my concentration but I have learned to stay calm and overcame the psychological barrier dealing with the same situation in the individual event,” he added.
Zulfadli realised he would be facing stiffer challenges against his peers from Asia as well as up-and-coming European junior shuttlers to secure the boys’ singles crown at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
“On both occasions (in 2009 and 2010) at the world junior tournament, I did not get beyond the last 16.
“It will be great to be among the medal contenders to complete my junior career on a good note. I won against (Denmark’s reigning world junior boys’ singles champion) Viktor Axelsen at Under-15 level but it will be a different ball game going up against him and other competitors,” he said.