Hafiz: Korean pairs are no weaklings

PETALING JAYA: Former Malaysian international Mohd Hafiz Hashim (pic) said it would be a folly to think that the doubles department is South Korea’s Achilles heel in the Thomas Cup Finals.

On the contrary, the 35-year-old Hafiz believes the young lesser-known Korean doubles players can punch above their weight and they should not be taken lightly.

Former Thomas Cupper Hafiz, who won the All-England singles title in 2003, has warned the Malaysian team to be wary if they clash in the elimination round.

The Finals start on Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand and there is a chance for Malaysia from Group D to meet Group B’s South Korea in the elimination round where the line-up will be decided by a fresh draw after the group stages.

“On paper, they do look weaker compared to other teams. They do not have any prominent doubles players in this edition,” said Hafiz.

During Hafiz’s stint in Thomas Cup from 2002-2012, doubles players like Lee Dong-soo-Yoo Yoo-sung, Lee Yong-dae-Chung Jae-sung had dominated the scene. Then, there were their doubles legends like Park Joo-bong-Kim Dong-moon and Dong-moo-Ha Tae-kwon.

Since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, South Korea’s men’s doubles department saw many of their good players quitting the sport.

“They are now re-building their team and we cannot rule out their young doubles players. In fact, we should not even look down on them,” he said.

Except for the 28-year-old Son Wan-ho, others in the team are relatively younger. South Korea’s second and third singles players – Jeon Hyeok-jin and Heo Kwang-hee are 22.

“Young players are usually very determined to prove their worth. They’ll go all out as they have nothing to lose,” said the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) coach.

Hafiz should know as he was only 19 when he contributed an important point against China in the semi-finals to take Malaysia into the final in his Thomas Cup debut at the 2002 Guangzhou edition.

“Malaysia have a good record against South Korea in past Finals and hopefully, we’ll continue the tradition. We have a mix of senior and junior players too. Senior Lee Chong Wei had lost to Wan-ho before, so the match could go either way,” said Hafiz.

“Hyeok-jin and Kwang-hee are not easy opponents to deal with. I’ve seen their progress and they are improving in every tournament but I hope our youngsters will step up to the plate,” added Hafiz.