No fun for top guns

Tough act to follow: Lee Chong Wei is the Malaysian shuttler to hold the world No. 1 position in the men’s singles the longest, for 349 weeks until 2017. When can his successor, Lee Zii Jia, get to the top?

PETALING JAYA: It’s hard to be a world No. 1 badminton player and it’s harder to stay at the top for a long time.

And that’s why former world No. 1 Datuk Rashid Sidek has a high regard for the players still holding on to the number one positions in their respective categories.

Japan occupy two positions at the top – Kento Momota in the men’s singles and Yuki Fukushima-Sayaka Hirota in the women’s doubles.

The other players perched at the highest spot are Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan (women’s singles), Marcus Fernaldi-Kevin Sanjaya of Indonesia (men’s doubles) and China’s Zheng Siwei-Huang Yaqiong (mixed doubles).

All of them have confirmed participation for the Malaysian Open from May 26-30. And they are also expected to be seeded top at the Olympics in Tokyo – making them the early favourites for medals.

Tzu-ying probably has held the position the longest, which was since December 2016, although she dropped to the second spot a couple of times in 2019 due to strong challenges from Carolina Marin of Spain, Nozomi Okuhara of Japan and P.V. Sindhu of India.

Hotshots Marcus-Kevin have been at the top since 2017 while all the others have held firm at the top since 2018.

Rashid said the key was to stay consistent without injuries.

“To maintain a high-level of play for a long time is not easy but these players have done well. Of course, we did not have many tournaments last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic but these players are truly a class above, ” said Rashid.

“Players have many responsibilities. They have to give 100% in training and competitions but yet have to be cautious about straining themselves. One of the biggest fears for a player is injury.

“I was a world No. 1 player in 1997 but I held on to that position only briefly. I had to deal with a knee injury and eventually, I slowed down.

“It also depends very much on the players’ mental strength. Many players talk big but they don’t show it in their game.”

Rashid also said there had been a change of guard at the top - underlining the improvement shown by several countries.

“Japan have shown the most improvement. They were nowhere during my playing days or probably, even in the last one decade. Now, they have Kento and others in every event, displaying quality performance.

“They must be doing something right with their training system. They don’t depend on one or two players but they have a big pool of quality players.

“Indonesia remain the powerhouse in the men’s doubles while China are still strong in the mixed doubles.

“The women’s singles probably, has taken the biggest turn. China used to dominate but Tzu-ying is now leading a group of determined women players from different countries.

“When I represented Malaysia at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, people there did not even know badminton existed. Now, they have a three-time world champion in Marin.

“It’s all about the mindset really. Marin showed that her nation may not have gone big in the sport but she took it upon herself to make a difference. She is a fighter and look where she is now.

“I hope our Malaysian women players will have that same self-belief too, nothing is impossible.”

Malaysia have never had world No. 1 players in the women’s singles and mixed doubles events.

Only Datuk Lee Chong Wei has held the No. 1 position in the men’s singles the longest, for 349 weeks until 2017, including a 199-week streak from August 21 2008 to June 14 2012.

There were others in the list, like men’s singles players Foo Kok Keong (1991), Mohd Roslin Hashim (2001), Wong Choong Hann (2002); men doubles shuttlers Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang (1992), Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock (1996), Chan Chong Ming-Chew Choon Eng (2002), Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah (2004), Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong (2007), Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong (2016); and women’s doubles pair Chin Ee Hui-Wong Pei Tty (2019) – but all of them did not stay at the top for long, some even lasted only for two weeks.

“Some countries are doing it right to have quality players at the top. Malaysia’s last world No. 1 player was Chong Wei in 2017... we do have some catching up to do.”

Currently, Malaysia only have top 10 players in three events - Lee Zii Jia (8th, men’s singes), Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik (9th, men’s doubles), Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (7th, mixed doubles).

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