PETALING JAYA: National shuttler Leong Jun Hao will finally get his first taste of a World Tour-level action since 2018 when the fourth-tier Spain Masters gets under way in Huelva today.
The 21-year-old will carry the nation’s challenge alongside Cheam June Wei and Ng Tze Yong in the men’s singles competition after being promoted to the main draw from the reserve list.
He left for Spain last Saturday with the seven-member squad that also comprise men’s pair Chang Yee Jun-Chia Wei Jie and women’s pair Anna Cheong-Yap Cheng Wen.
Women’s singles duo S. Kisona and Goh Jin Wei did not make the trip as they were deemed “not ready” by the coaching team.
The two SEA Games gold medallists will get ready for the seventh-tier Austrian Open instead.
All eyes however will be on the men’s singles trio as the fans are hoping for Hendrawan’s charges to keep the fine momentum going following the recent successes.
Lee Zii Jia won the All-England champion while Tze Yong clinched the Polish Open, both in March.
World No. 75 June Wei, Tze Yong (108) and Jun Hao (135) will be making only their second start of the year, and given the lack of playing opportunity in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be interesting to see if they are able to give their rankings a big lift.
June Wei made it to the quarter-finals of the Orleans Masters in France in March while Jun Hao was the Polish Open semi-finalist after his defeat to Tze Yong.
Having received a late entry into this week’s meet, expect Jun Hao to play his heart out in his first World Tour start since Taiwan Open three years ago as he continues to rebuild his career that was hampered by two lengthy injury lay-offs since October 2018.
Jun Hao was touted as the next big thing in Malaysian badminton after he bagged the Asian Junior title and a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in 2017.
He made an immediate impact after being promoted to the senior team in January 2018, finishing as runner-up at the Thailand Masters and winning the Finnish Open for his first senior title.
That same year, he represented Malaysia in the Thomas Cup Finals in Bangkok in May and the Asian Games in Indonesia in August.