PETALING JAYA: There’s an opportunity up for the taking at the World Championships, but can Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik make it count?
Indonesia’s surprise withdrawal from the world meet, which begins on Sunday in Huelva, Spain, provides the world No. 7 with a lifetime opportunity to possibly secure a medal or even become Malaysia’s first ever world champions.
In the absence of the top two seeds – Kevin Sanjaya-Marcus Fernaldi and defending champions Mohammad Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan – the fourth-seeded Aaron-Wooi Yik have now become the second highest seeded pair in the tournament behind third seeds Lee Yang-Wang Chi-lin of Taiwan.
And what more can Aaron-Wooi Yik ask for as they also have one less threat to deal with in the absence of another formidable Indonesian duo Fajar Alfian-Rian Ardianto, the sixth seeds, in the bottom half of the draw.
The doubles field has already been severely weakened following the retirement of several top players including Japanese trio Takeshi Kamura, Keigo Sonoda and Hiroyuki Endo (Yuta Watanabe’s partner) and China’s Li Junhui (Liu Yuchen’s partner).
Aaron-Wooi Yik’s path to the final, of course, remains tricky as they could have two unpredictable China pairs Ou Xuanyi-Zhang Nan and He Jiting-Tan Qiang standing in their way in the second and third rounds.
But if they can reproduce the form that won them the bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, they are definitely more than capable of fending off these Chinese pairs.
Fajar-Rian’s no show is also Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong’s gain as the two pairs are projected to clash in the last 16.
The former world No. 1, who have gone separate ways but are reunited for one last hurrah, are now looking good to reach the quarter-finals with an all-Malaysian clash with Aaron-Wooi Yik on the cards.
If that happens, Malaysia are assured of at least a bronze by entering the semi-finals.
In the upper half, debutants Nur Izzuddin Rumsani-Goh Sze Fei can also heave a sigh of relief knowing that they will have less intimidating opponents to play against in the second round.
Had Indonesia not withdrawn, then Izzzudin-Sze Fei would have met high-riding youngsters Leo Carnando-Daniel Marthin, the French Open finalists.
In mixed doubles, Hoo Pang Ron-Cheah Yee See will also want to take advantage of the absence of fourth seeds Praveen Jordan-Melati Oktavianti – their likely second-round opponents.
National coaching director Wong Choong Hann admits the absence of Indonesia would throw the competition wide open.
“From a neutral perspective, obviously their withdrawal is a blow as they have a lot of star players,” said Choong Hann, who left for Spain with women’s singles player S. Kisona and coach Indra Wijaya yesterday.
“As for us, it’s important to take every chance available to do well. There are still many tough opponents left in the draw.
“It’s about how much the players want it and how focused they are on their goals.
“After so many tournaments, fatigue has kicked in. The strongest will survive at this point.”
The rest of the national players who flew from Bali have already arrived in Spain on Tuesday.
The All-Indonesian Badminton Federation (PBSI) in a statement yesterday announced they decided to pull out due to the Covid-19 variant Omicron.