PETALING JAYA: Shuttler Cheam June Wei (pic) could get a shot at avenging his defeat last year to former world No. 1 K. Srikanth of India at the Orleans Masters in France from March 23-28.
The Malaysian world No. 78 has been drawn in the same quarter with the world No. 13 and top seed of the 64-player men’s singles contest, with a potential third-round clash on the cards.
June Wei should have no problem clearing his opening two hurdles – against Ygor Coelho of Brazil in the first and a qualifier in the second – to set up a rematch of last year’s Asia Team Championships duel with Srikanth.
Then, in Manila, June Wei gave Srikanth a run for his money for 57 minutes before losing 21-14,16-21,19-21 in the second singles tie of the group stage which saw Malaysia triumph 4-1.
It turned out to be an outing to remember for June Wei as he went on to defeat Son Wan-ho of South Korea, Kenta Nishimoto of Japan and Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie to help Malaysia finish runners-up and qualify for the Thomas Cup Finals.
Unfortunately, the Asia team meet in February last year was also June Wei’s last international outing before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world’s sporting calendar.
June Wei will surely aim to pick up where he left off following a frustrating 13-month wait and a possible meeting with a top opponent like Srikanth provides him with a great platform to showcase his ability.
The other notable world top 30 rivals bunched in the top half with June Wei are Thailand’s three-time world junior champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn and Indian duo H. S. Prannoy and P. Kashyap.
Indepedent shuttler Soong Joo Ven is the other Malaysian in the fray. He faces a qualifier in the opening round but a tricky second hurdle against Denmark’s veteran Hans-Kristian Vittinghus awaits him next.
In the women’s singles, it’s deja vu for S. Kisona after she was pitted against India’s Saina Nehwal once again.
The world No. 62 was no match the last time she met the world No. 19 in the Thailand Open I in January, losing tamely 15-21,15-21.
The Orleans Masters will also see 21-year-old Goh Jin Wei back in action as she bids to rebuild her career affected by illness and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The world No. 146 will start her campaign in the qualifying rounds alongside teammate Lee Ying Ying where they need two wins each to reach the top 32 main draw.
Malaysia are also represented in the women’s doubles by Teoh Mei Xing-Yap Ling and Anna Cheong-Yap Cheng Wen.
Mei Xing-Yap Ling will start against home pair Emilie Lefel-Anne Tran while Anna-Cheng Wen’s first-time partnership will be tested by Julie Finne-Ipsen-Mai Surrow of Denmark.
Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai Jemie will be Malaysia’s sole flagbearers in the mixed doubles competition.
Although it’s a lower-ranked meet, the Orleans Masters can provide some crucial ranking points for the world No. 10 as it’s a Tokyo Olympics qualifier.
Soon Huat-Shevon, the second seeds, will open against Ronan Labar-Anne Tran of France for a third time this year.
They are expected to breeze past the same opponents they had beaten in the first round of the back-to-back Thailand Opens in January.
Soon Huat-Shevon should have a clear path all the way to the semi-finals where they could clash with world No. 11 Thom Gicquel-Delphine Delrue of France.
Barring any unforeseen upset, Soon Huat-Shevon are expected to face either one of the England pairs in Marcus Ellis-Lauren Smith or Chris Adcock-Gabrielle Adcock in the final.