They stole the show with their giant-killing acts as Malaysia gave reigning Uber Cup champions Japan a run for their money before going down 3-2 in the Asia Team Championships in Manila yesterday.
Soniia stunned world No. 3 Akane Yamaguchi 21-16, 13-21, 18-21 – repeating her feat at the Fuzhou China Open last year – while Kisona pulled off the biggest win of her career by triumphing 21-14, 21-13 over world No. 19 Aya Ohori.
These were certainly statement-making wins, especially after Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) openly declared that the women’s singles head coach Datuk Tey Seu Bock was on his way out unless he could produce a “miracle”.
World No. 31 Soniia was delighted to have beaten Yamaguchi for the second time, which she claimed as more “satisfying”.
“I’m so happy with the win. This is definitely a fitter Akane compared to the one I played in China last year,” said Soniia.
“She was struggling at that time after returning from injury, so I would say this win is more satisfying.”
Soniia hopes the team will carry the positives into the crunch match against Taiwan in the knockout stage. A win will see the team qualifying on merit for the Uber Cup Finals.
“It was a great effort and I’m proud with how we battled mighty Japan. We proved that we’re no whipping girls,” said Soniia.
“We’re going into the quarter-finals believing we stand a chance against anyone. Being the underdogs, we have nothing to lose, and all to gain.”
As for Kisona, the Philippines SEA Games gold medallist, Manila continued to be her favourite hunting ground.
But the 21-year-old has refused to get carried away even after her first win over a top-20 opponent.
“I am still not too satisfied with my performance,” she said. “Although I played out what I have trained, I believe I still have long way to go before I can reach the same level as Ohori. My win today doesn’t change anything.”
Seu Bock heaped praises on his charges.
“I couldn’t be prouder, they took on their higher-ranked opponents with no fear,” he said.
Second singles player Goh Jin Wei and doubles pairs Chow Mei Kuan-Lee Meng Yean and M. Thinaah-Pearly Tan Koong Le lost in their respective matches.
Following Soniia’s win, all eyes were on Mei Kuan-Meng Yean to upset world No. 3 Yuki Fukushima-Sayaka Hirota to double the lead for Malaysia.
But it was indeed a tall order as Fukushima-Hirota powered past them 21-11, 21-15.
Jin Wei, still recovering from a stomach ailment, went down 18-21, 12-21 to Sayaka Takahashi in the second singles as Japan raced 2-1 ahead.
Pearly-Thinaah could not save the match for Malaysia, but the youngsters certainly deserved a pat on their back for stretching world No. 11 Nami Matsuyama-Chiharu Shida to the limit, before losing 15-21, 21-18, 16-21.
Said Pearly: “It was quite a surprise that we were able to take them to a rubber game. To give one best pairs in the world a good fight gives us a lot confidence.
“If we get to play again tomorrow (quarter-finals), we want to perform better!”