KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will stick to their quarter-final target for the Sudirman Cup which kicks off on Sunday.
With some of the main contenders heading to Vaanta, Finland, without their strongest line-ups, Malaysia appear to have a realistic chance of finishing on the podium for the first time in 12 years.
Malaysia came in joint-third in the 2009 edition in Guangzhou for their sole podium finish in the world mixed team championship since its inception in 1989.
However, national coaching director Wong Choong Hann stressed that his youthful side would remain focused on accomplishing their initial goal first before anything else.
“We will of course capitalise on every opportunity we have. But still, what’s more important for us is to focus on achieving our (quarter-final) target first,” said Choong Hann.
“If we’re able to do that, only then will we try to go for more.”
Having finished as quarter-finalists in the last three editions, Malaysia should not be afraid to be more ambitious following the latest developments.
Some of the notable absentees in Vaanta include Tokyo Olympics’ top performers Chen Long and Li Junhui-Liu Yuchen of China; and Tai Tzu-ying and Lee Yang-Wang Chi-lin (Taiwan).
India and Thailand too, will be without their talismanic women’s singles stars P. V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal and Ratchanok Intanon respectively.
In the group stage itself, Malaysia should also gain an upper hand over their main competitors in Group D.
Japan are without their best two men’s doubles pairs following the retirement of Takeshi Kamura, Keigo Sonoda and Hiroyuki Endo, while England will surely miss the presence of their top men’s singles shuttler Toby Penty and the experienced Chris Langridge in the men’s doubles.
Although fielding an inexperienced side, Malaysia should still be competitive with both All-England champion Lee Zii Jia and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik capable of delivering the points in the men’s singles and men’s doubles matches.
Malaysia can also count on rising stars Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah in the women’s doubles and Hoo Pang Ron-Cheah Yee See in the mixed doubles.
This year, Pearly-Thinaah have scored a couple of wins over top-10 rivals and claimed the Swiss Open title while Pang Roon-Yee See showed their potential by beating world No. 8 Hafiz Faizal-Gloria Widjaja of Indonesia en route to reaching the Thailand Open semi-finals.
Meanwhile, a 30-member Malaysian squad including 18 Sudirman Cup-bound players have departed for Finland last night after being cleared from Covid-19 tests.