PETALING JAYA: National men’s doubles ace Aaron Chia (pic) is relishing the prospect of taking on powerhouse Japan twice in the forthcoming major team tournaments.
As fate would have it, Malaysia have landed second seeds Japan in Group D of the Sudirman Cup in Vaanta, Finland, from Sept 26-Oct 3.
It came just a week after Malaysia have been pitted with Japan in the group stage of the Thomas Cup, which will be held in Aarhus, Denmark, from Oct 9-17.
The other two opponents in Malaysia’s early path at the world mixed team championship are England and Egypt.
While it may seem tricky on paper, Aaron is thrilled about the challenge and vowed to deliver the point in the men’s doubles tie for Malaysia with partner Soh Wooi Yik.
In Vaanta, Japan are most likely to field either world No. 5 Yuta Watanabe-Hiroyuki Endo or No. 6 Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda - the two rivals that Aaron-Wooi Yik have yet to beat after playing them twice.
Aaron had earlier said they have made it a target to start beating more top ranked rivals after earning their first win over world No. 1 Kevin Sanjaya-Marcus Fernaldi on their eighth attempt en route to winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.
“We’re still seeking a breakthrough against these two strong Japanese pairs, so we will have a chance to do so in the coming tournaments,” said Aaron.
“It will be great if we can accomplish it and at the same time win a point for the team.
“Japan will surely be the favourites to win the group. But the battle is fought on court, not paper.
“I’m sure everyone in the team will give everything we’ve got to try to topple Japan and top the group in both competitions. But realistically, our target should be finishing nothing less than at the top and advancing to the quarter-finals.”
Aaron added that England should also not be underestimated as they, too, boast a steady men’s doubles department in world No. 12 Marcus Ellis-Chris Langridge and No. 19 Ben Lane-Sean Vendy.
“It will be a mistake to just worry about Japan. It’s going to be tricky against the English too, who’re going to steal a point from the men’s doubles.”
Having drawn Japan, fans can also look forward to a showdown between All-England champion Lee Zii Jia and world No. 1 Kento Momota.
Both Zii Jia and Momota will be fired up to make amends after failing to impress at the Olympics.
The Japanese side should be a tough nut to crack as they also have top-five players in the other three departments.
They have the luxury of choosing between Akane Yamaguchi or Nozomi Okuhara in the women’s singles, while in the women’s doubles Mayu Matsumoto-Wakana Nagahara can easily step in for Sayaka Hirota-Yuki Fukushima, as the former is currently recuperating from a knee surgery.
They also have All-England champions Watanabe-Arisa Higashino to count on in the mixed doubles.
Malaysia are expected to send a largely youthful squad to the Sudirman Cup with the likes of women’s singles S. Kisona, Goh Jin Wei, Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah (women’s doubles) and Hoo Pang Ron-Cheah Yee See (mixed doubles) set to play leading role.
Malaysia have only managed to make it to the semi-finals once, which marked their best ever achievement back in the 2009 edition in China.
Group A: China, Thailand, Finland, India. Group B: Taiwan, South Korea, Tahiti, Germany. Group C: Indonesia, Denmark, Russia, Canada Group D: Japan, Malaysia, England, Egypt.
SUDIRMAN CUP DRAW