PETALING JAYA: The hosts look likely to go empty-handed for a second time running in the Celcom Axiata Malaysian Open after a nightmare draw that saw most of them facing early exits.
It’s a terrifying thought for some top Malaysian shuttlers who are likely to go out after the first round of the US$750,000 (RM3.17mil) tournament, to be held at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil from March 31-April 5.
For Malaysia’s No 1 Lee Zii JIa, it’s deja vu. He has been drawn against Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie in the first round again.
The duo are also scheduled to meet in the opening match of the All-England, which gets underway in Birmingham today, with Zii Jia still seeking his first win after five encounters.
Zii Jia, the world No. 15, will be fired up to prove himself after his first-round exit in the Malaysian Open last year.
Even if Zii Jia manages to upset Asian Games champion Jonatan, there are still plenty of obstacles ahead with Indonesia’s Antony Ginting, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Olympic champions Chen Long and Lin Dan all in the same half.
The fans are in for a treat as a repeat of of last year’s final between defending champion Lin Dan and Chen Long is on the cards in the second round.
In the absence of Japan’s world No. 1 Kento Momota, who is still recovering from an eye surgery, world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan has been given top billing.
He will be hoping to conquer the Malaysian Open for the first time and become the first Taiwanese men’s singles winner in the history of the Open.
The draw is worse for the local men’s and mixed doubles – the only two events in which the hosts have seeded players in world No. 8 Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and No. 7 Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying.
Aaron-Wooi Yik, who will open their campaign against India’s Manu Attri-B. Sumeeth Reddy, could find themselves crossing paths in the last 16 with revitalised Korean veterans Kim Gi-jung-Lee Yong-dae, who won the Malaysian Masters in January.
World No. 2 Mohammad Ahsan-Hendra will most probably be the ones awaiting them even if they march to the quarter-finals.
Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong could not ask for a tougher opener. They will face 2018 world champions Li Junhui-Liu Yuchen of China.
The other two pairs in the fray are Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi and Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani.
In the mixed doubles, the path looks clear for Peng Soon-Liu Ying until the last eight where they are expected to face their nemesis world No. 2 Wang Yilyu-Huang Dongping of China. Peng Soon-Liu Ying were the runners-up in 2013 and 2016.
World No. 9 Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai Jemie can also count themselves unlucky to be going up against Indonesia’s Hafiz Faizal-Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja in the first hurdle.
It’s also unlikely that Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing can emulate their brilliant semi-final run last year.
The world No. 10 landed a nightmarish draw as they were pitted with world No. 1 and defending champions Zheng Siwei-Huang Yaqiong.
Kian Meng-Pei Jing were the best Malaysian performers last year, preventing the host from not being represented in the semi-finals for the first time since 2015.
In the women’s singles, Soniia Cheah also faces an early exit unless she can pull off a magical display to down world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying. The dominant Taiwanese will be bidding for a fourth consecutive title, and a fifth overall having claimed her first in 2013.
Malaysia will be represented by three pairs – Chow Mei Kuan-Lee Meng Yean, Vivian Hoo-Yap Cheng Wen and Pearly Tan Koong Le-M. Thinaah – in the women’s doubles, but the mighty Chinese, Japanese and Korean rivals who dominated seven out of the eight seedings will prove too handful for them.
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