PETALING JAYA: Independent shuttler Liew Daren has one ultimate wish for 2020 – to stay injury-free.
The next few months will be crucial for the 32-year-old as he kicks off his last-ditch effort to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the Malaysian Masters, which gets under way at the Axiata Arena on Tuesday.
Daren is out to revive his dwindling prospects with three decent back-to-back outings that also include the Indonesian Masters (Jan 14-19) and Thailand Masters (Jan 21-26).
Currently ranked 30th in the world, the door is not entirely shut yet for Daren to sneak into the top 16 by the end of the one-year qualification period on April 30.
Lee Zii Jia, the current top-ranked Malaysian men’s singles shuttler at No. 14, looks set to secure a spot.
But Daren, who has yet to compete in the Olympics, has refused to throw in the towel just yet.
“It’s make or break in the next three months. I should know by March if I stand a chance to make it to Tokyo or not, ” said the 2018 World Championships bronze medallist.
“That’s why I really need to stay away from injury. The hardest part about me was always about injury, I need some luck.
“Last year has not been good for me at all. After injuring my heel at last year’s Malaysian Open (in April), I struggled to play well ever since.
“The timing was just so bad, for some reason it has to happen during the crucial Olympic qualifying period.
“That’s an unproductive second half of the year for me, I really must find my way back in the new season.”
And for the Malaysian Masters to serve as the season-opener for the new season of the World Tour could not be more timely.
Daren was in his element at the Axiata Arena 12 months ago, going all the way to the semi-finals before he was forced to concede the match due to a foot injury against eventual champion Son Wan-ho of South Korea.
In the quarter-finals, Daren stunned China’s Shi Yuqi, then world No. 2,21-12,16-21,21-11.
In fact, he also impressed in 2018 by reaching the semis.
“There’s just something about Axiata Arena. I think the home factor really plays a big role in me doing well in the last two years.
“I love playing in front of the home crowd and the court condition kind of favours me too. I was also the quarter-finalist in 2013 and 2015.”
But Daren faces a daunting task this time around as he has to start his campaign from the qualifying round.
Daren will face Subhankar Dey of India and if he wins, he will take on either Thailand’s Suppanyu Avihingsanon or China’s Zhao Junpeng.
Should he reach the main draw, then world No. 6 Jonatan Christie of Indonesia will stand in his way.
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