WHEN Japan’s Yuta Watanabe sent his return into the net, national coaching director Rexy Mainaky sank to his knees, with a big smile on his face. His big gamble had paid off.
Rexy had made a brave tactical switch, moving his third ranked pair to play at first doubles and fielding a scratch pair at second doubles in the all-important Thomas Cup quarter-final against Japan.
And both pairs repaid his faith as Malaysia floored the Kento Momota-led giants to reach the quarter-finals as Group D champions.
It was Malaysia’s first win against Japan in the Thomas Cup Finals after 12 years.
In an unexpected move, Rexy promoted third ranked Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani and decided against using the Tokyo Olympics bronze-medal winning pair of Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik.
Instead, he fielded the scratch pair of Aaron and Teo Ee Yi at second.
It worked magnificently as both pairs upset the formbook.
World No. 14 Sze Fei-Izzuddin stood tall as they toppled world champions Takuro Hoki-Yugo Kobayashi 21-19, 21-16 while Aaron-Ee Yi, who had played together four years ago, were equally pumped up.
They fought valiantly to strike down Akira Koga-Watanabe to win 22-20, 21-17, a result that saw the Malaysian camp erupt in joy.
National number one Lee Zii Jia had set the team on the road to victory after defeating Momota 21-17, 21-8 in the first singles.
“I was so happy that I went down on the floor. I was humbled and just wanted to thank God that our plan had worked and that our doubles players had delivered,” said Rexy.
The Indonesian knew that it could have gone either way, as the two pairs fought point-for-point but says that he put a lot of thought into making the move.
“It was not an overnight decision. I observed the players the past few weeks and assessed their feelings and mindset on and off court.
“I knew in my heart what may work.”
The players, on their part, were outstanding.
“We were surprised but we also wanted to show the coach he had not made a mistake by choosing us,” said Sze Fei. “We wanted to repay his faith and after all, we were ready.”
Skipper Aaron said the coach’s decision to rest Wooi Yik did not come as a surprise.
“We were prepared. The match was so close. Both sides could only lead by two points at any one time but we did not lose focus, as Rexy kept shouting at us to keep fighting.”
Aaron and Ee Yi also played as a scratch pair in Bangkok four years ago but did not win any match.
“We have grown now and we trust each other more. We hope to keep the momentum going,” said the 29-year-old Ee Yi, the oldest member in the doubles squad.
Malaysia, who now play India, have a bright chance of qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time in eight years.
The last time was in Kunshan, China in 2016 but were beaten by Denmark, who went on to win their first Cup that year.
Denmark could still be in the way again. They face South Korea in the other quarter-finals in the same half of the draw.