KUALA LUMPUR: With a Thomas Cup Finals berth at stake, failure is not an option for Leong Jun Hao when he opens his campaign in the Badminton Association Malaysia (BAM) Invitational Championships today.
Despite being the third most senior member in the national men’s singles squad, the 21-year-old has found himself having to compete in Division Two with five others, due to his low ranking.
The 2017 Asian Junior champion must finish among the top two in the four-day round-robin contest at the Academy Badminton Malaysia (ABM) to earn promotion to Division One. The higher division will start playing next Tuesday.
Failing to clear the early hurdle could cost Jun Hao dearly as he bids to make his second Thomas Cup Finals appearance having debuted in Bangkok two years ago.
On paper, Jun Hao is expected to win easily with Lim Chong King, last year’s Hellas Open winner, being his strongest opponent. The other four players are probationers Wyman Goh, Shaqeem Eiman Shahyar, Low Eu Cong and Ter Chun Long.
Wyman and Shaqeem will be no pushovers as they were quarter-finalists at last year’s World Junior Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Jun Hao admitted to feeling the heat ahead of his opening matches against Eu Cong and Chun Long.
“It’s crucial that I make it to Division One, otherwise I can forget about a Thomas Cup call-up, ” said Jun Hao, whose career has been curtailed by a series of ankle and hip injuries since October 2018.
“It’s quite unfortunate that I have to start from Division Two because my ranking dropped drastically due to inactivity in the first eight months of last year.
“But there’s nothing I can do. I have been working very hard since we returned to training in early July. This internal tournament is going to be a tricky one because this will be the first competitive action for all of us.
“I won’t see myself as the favourite, although I am more experienced than the others. I will be going up against my teammates, with whom I train on a daily basis. I will have to bring out my A-game to get a top-two finish.”
Barring any unforeseen outcome, Jun Hao and Chong King are expected to claim the two promotion spots and join the Division One fray next week.
The six shuttlers already in the top division are Lee Zii Jia, Cheam June Wei, Ng Tze Yong, Aidil Sholeh Ali Sadikin, Liew Daren and Soong Joo Ven.
The men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles competitions will also be held next week.
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