PETALING JAYA: World No. 2 Cheah Liek Hou is relishing the prospects of taking on Indonesian arch-rivals Dheva Anrimusthi and Suryo Nugroho when the Dubai Para-Badminton International gets under way today.
The United Arab Emirates meet, which marks the restart of the para badminton circuit after a 13-month hiatus, gathers a strong field of competitors as it makes up one of the only three tournaments leading to the Tokyo Paralympics from Aug 24-Sept 5.
The other two are the Spanish and Irish Para Badminton Internationals which will be held from May 10-16 and June 21-27 respectively.
Liek Hou will be out to earn early bragging rights over his rivals in the men’s singles SU5 (impairment in upper body) and underline his gold-medal credentials for the Tokyo Games.
Except for world No. 5 Taiyo Imai of Japan, Liek Hou has the opportunity to see how he stacks up against fellow Paralympics contenders comprising No. 1 Dheva and No. 3 Suryo, No. 4 Bartlomiej Mroz of Poland and No. 7 Ilker Tuzcu of Turkey.
“I’m equally thrilled and nervous at the same time, ” said the 33-year-old Liek Hou.
“Thrilled because it’s been more than a year since I played in Peru (in February last year) and nervous because I don’t how far my rivals have come since then.
“But I’ve been in great form before the pandemic brought the circuit to a halt, so I’m going to go back on the court with the same confidence.”
Liek Hou picked up four Open titles in succession, winning in Denmark, Japan, Brazil and Peru between November 2019 and February last year.
It was in Brazil that he finally got the better of his nemesis Dheva since 2017 – a morale-boosting win that ignited his hopes of becoming Malaysia’s first gold medallist in para badminton when the sport makes its debut at the Tokyo Paralympics.
“If I’m able to get the better of Dheva and Suryo again, then it would surely do my confidence a whole world of good, ” he added.
Coach Datuk Rashid Sidek isn’t the only one travelling with Liek Hou for the assignment this week, the latter also has the backing from the video analysis team from the National Sports Institute (NSI).
“The NSI team will be assisting me with the game analysis of my top rivals. I’m so fortunate to have such support and this would surely complement my preparations very well ahead of Tokyo, ” said Liek Hou.
Besides government support, Liek Hou has also received a shot in the arm when he secured two personal sponsorships from Woodpeckers Group (Llao Llao Malaysia) and Bizlink Property Group.
“It’s a great start to the year for me. I’m so grateful to have two companies coming on board to support my Paralympics dream and beyond, ” said Liek Hou, who also has Apacs as equipment sponsor.
“With some extra cash, I would be able to spend it on other tournaments which are not funded by the government. I need to go out to compete to maintain my ranking position.
“Apart from the Paralympics, I’m also aiming for glory at the World Championships (also in Tokyo, Oct 25-31) and Asean Para Games (in Hanoi, Dec 17-23). Also, the BWF World Para-Badminton Circuit, akin to the BWF World Tour, is set to commence next year. I need all the financial assistance I can get.”