Shifeng, Kwang-hee breathe down top stars’ necks

Skilful: South Korea’s Heo Kwang-hee and China’s Li Shifeng (below) make heads turn with their impressive play during the Thomas Cup Finals. — AFP/AP

PETALING JAYA: The emergence of lower-ranked shuttlers such as China’s Li Shifeng and South Korea’s Heo Kwang-hee may spell trouble for the world’s top 10 players including Lee Zii Jia.

World No. 33 Kwang-hee and No. 65 Shifeng were among those who stood out at the just-concluded Thomas Cup Finals in Aarhus, Denmark.The 21-year-old Shifeng, who is the 2018 Youth Olympics Games gold medallist, appeared to have come of age.Playing in second singles in Denmark, he won five of his six matches including notable victories over Thailand’s world No. 23 Kunlavut Vitidsarn in the quarter-finals and Japan’s world No. 13 Kanta Tsuneyama in the last four to help the youthful Chinese side reach the final.

However, Shifeng failed to prevent world No. 7 Jonatan Christie from clinching the winning point for Indonesia in the final but his spirited display has wowed many fans.

As for late bloomer Kwang-hee, he has given the team hope that they may have finally found a worthy successor to former world No. 1 Son Wan-ho.At 26, the 2013 world junior champion still has many good years left in him and can pose a real threat if his recent performance is anything to go by.

In Aarhus, Kwang-hee proved that his win over world No. 1 Kento Momota at the Olympics was no flash in the pan when he outplayed the Japanese during South Korea’s 3-1 quarter-final defeat.

Kwang-hee also defeated Taiwan’s world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen en route to his nation’s bronze-medal finish at the Sudirman Cup in Finland.

National men’s singles head coach Hendrawan said he is aware of the threat posed by these emerging players.

“It’s going to be tough for our shuttlers,” said Hendrawan. “Shifeng, Kunlavut and Heo have shown vast improvements. But we will not underestimate anyone.“Zii Jia knows that well because he too was going through the same path where he used to upset higher-ranked opponents to rise to the top. Now, he needs to maintain it and it won’t be easy.”

Former international Ong Ewe Hock said Zii Jia should get ready for more challenges ahead despite having established himself in the top 10 bracket.

“Out with the old, in with the new. It’s not surprising that more fresh faces are starting to make their presence felt,” said Ewe Hock, a three-time Thomas Cupper.

“It’s bound to happen for powerhouses like China and South Korea to come up with rising stars.

“We can expect these guys to only get better because their team will now double up their efforts in developing them.”

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