PETALING JAYA: Former Asian junior champion Leong Jun Hao (pic) knows time is running out for him to make an impression with the national badminton team.
The 22-year-old is still struggling to establish himself as a top player although he has been with the senior squad for four years.
Although his career progress was hampered by a series of injuries and Covid-19 pandemic in the past few years, Jun Hao is aware that none of these excuses can help him hold on to his place in the national team if he fails to buck up.
Jun Hao had his chances last year but took none of them.
His most notable results were reaching the Polish Open semi-finals as well a memorable performance at the Thomas Cup Finals in Aarhus last October.
Jun Hao scored Malaysia’s solitary point in their 4-1 group stage loss to Japan when he defeated world No. 16 Kenta Nishimoto 21-19, 21-18.
But he failed to build on it, crashing out early in the Czech Open, Belgian International and Irish Open.
He did not complete the two remaining assignments – Scottish Open and Welsh Open – due to fears of aggravating his old hip injury.
“It was a real let down that I could not capitalise on the tournament opportunities in hand and improve my ranking,” said Jun Hao, who ended the year as the world No. 120.
“Thankfully my injury wasn’t serious. I have since recovered from it.
“But again, I can’t entirely blame my poor results on the injury. In fact, my old injury is no longer holding me back.
“It did prevent me from giving my best when I first came back from a lengthy layoff but that’s no longer the case now.”
Following the departure of Cheam June Wei two months ago, Jun Hao is now the second most senior player behind the 23-year-old Lee Zii Jia in the men’s singles department.
But seniority certainly counts for nothing, it’s the ranking that matters.
Besides world No. 7 Zii Jia, ahead of him are Ng Tze Yong (No. 60) and Aidil Sholeh Ali Sadikin (No. 105).
“Hopefully I’ll be able to secure my long-awaited breakthrough this year,” said Jun Hao.
“Obviously I know that I have to start proving myself or my place in the team is at stake.
“My immediate goal will be to reach the world top-50 first by trying to win a couple of tournaments. Any victory, whether big or small, is always good for confidence.
“Another major goal this year is to get picked and play in the team tournaments (Badminton Asia Team Championships and Thomas Cup Finals).”