PETALING JAYA: Shuttler Liew Daren has revealed how he cried and how the team’s dressing room was in complete silence after Malaysia were pipped to the Thomas Cup by Japan in 2014.
Daren failed to clinch the winning point that could have ended nation’s frustrating wait for the coveted title since 1992 as he went down 12-21,21-18,17-21 to Takuma Ueda in the deciding third singles battle in New Delhi, India.
Malaysia lost 2-3 in the gripping final that lasted nearly five hours.
Daren, then the team captain, may have lost the match but he did capture the hearts of many Malaysians with his fighting spirit.
In the second game, Daren came back from the brink of defeat by overturning a six-point deficit at 10-16 to force a rubber game.
But it was Ueda who had the last laugh as Japan lifted the trophy for the first time since the prestigious team competition’s inception in 1949.
Six years after the loss that he says was the lowest point of his career, Daren, 32, has opened up on the emotions he experienced after being within touching distance of becoming a national hero.
“I could not hold back my tears as soon as I left the court. I was absolutely devastated by the defeat, ” Daren recounted.
“I felt like I could have won after pulling off that comeback in the second game and I wanted to win it so much... for the country, the team and myself too, as I hadn’t won even a match (he lost in group stage matches against India and Germany).
“That could have been a life-changing moment that would have meant everything to me as a national shuttler.
“But I crumbled in the end and let everyone down.
“Back in the dressing room, nobody spoke. There was no conversation. Everyone was just too dejected to say anything.”
Daren said it took him months before he could eventually put the disappointment behind him.
“I had no appetite for the next few days and it haunted me for months, ” he recalled.
As an independent shuttler, Daren did make amends four years later by reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Championships in Nanjing, China.
As a losing semi-finalist, he picked up a bronze medal, making him only the third Malaysian medallist in World Championships history after Lee Chong Wei (three silvers – London 2011, Guangzhou 2013 and Jakarta 2015) and Wong Choong Hann (silver – Birmingham 2003).
“I don’t think we can compare the two competitions because the team event obviously carries more weight, ” said Daren, who left the national team in 2016.
“But I hope at least this is something that I can give back to the nation.”
Daren had indeed made Malaysia proud in Nanjing.
No one expected him to go far but he went on to gun down higher-ranked players like Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie, India’s K. Srikanth and Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama before finding his match in eventual champion Kento Momota.
The quarter-final win over Japan’s Tsuneyama, which he won by battling through an ankle injury, won the hearts of badminton fans around the globe. Daren had to take on Momota a day later, and not in his best condition.
“Even if I was fit and injury-free, there’s no way I could beat Momota. At most, I could have taken a game off him. That world title was meant to be his, ” said Daren.
“But it was a moment to cherish. I must say I’m really proud of that achievement because I was all alone there. There were no support services, or anything. I had coach (Tey) Seu Bock to help me out, but that was a last-minute arrangement from BAM.”
Daren, now the world No. 41, had planned has intended to call it a day at the end of the year, but the Covid-19 pandemic has changed his plans.
Just as in 2014, he has a reason to fight back.
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