PETALING JAYA: Former international Rashid Sidek says there are no clear favourites in the men’s singles at the Asian Games and this an ideal situation for Lee Zii Jia and Ng Tze Yong to take advantage of the situation in Hangzhou. Defending champion Jonatan Christie of Indonesia, who triumphed in Jakarta five years ago, sent a timely warning by winning the Hong Kong Open on Sunday but Rashid doesn’t consider him as a contender.
Rashid believes the men’s singles will be turned into a battle royale with reigning world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand, Japan’s top player Kodai Naraoka, China duo Shi Yuqi, Li Shifeng as well as Indian veteran H.S. Prannoy and Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan to throw their hats into the ring.
Zii Jia, the world No 16, and Tze Yong, No. 19, may not be given much of a chance but Rashid has reminded the duo that they have beaten the title contenders before.
“No singles player has been dominant on the international circuit and we have a new winner at each tournament. If Zii Jia and Tze Yong stop worrying and go out there and play to form, they have the chance for a podium finish,” said Rashid, a bronze medallist at the 1990 Beijing Games.
“Both players have beaten the current contenders before and they have the ability to do that again.
“Everyone’s focus is on players like Kunlavut, Yuqi, Shifeng, Kodai and several others and this will also reduce the pressure on our shuttlers.
“They have got everything to gain in Hangzhou and all they need is to string a few solid performances and they should be in a position to fight for medals.
“The quality is so high that winning a bronze is not easy but if Zii Jia and Tze Yong can put their minds on the job, they can even go far.”
Although Rashid believes it is difficult to predict the winner, the likes of world No. 4 Kunlavut, Yuqi (No. 6) and Shifeng (No. 8) will be trying to make an impact.
“Kunlavut just won the world title and he would want to prove that he is worthy of the Asian Games gold,” said Rashid.
“China shuttlers have home ground advantage and this will give them the motivation to earn their first major crown.
“The unpredictable race has made the men’s singles exciting this time.
“I wish Zii Jia or Tze Yong to take their chances and aim for the final but it would be fantastic even if they can win a bronze.”
The 2018 Jakarta already witnessed the transition as it was the first tournament that went without big names like Lin Dan of China and Lee Chong Wei.
Yuqi and Kento Momota, the top two seeds then, stumbled in the preliminary rounds where the unseeded Jonatan defeated fourth seeded Tien-chen for gold while Kenta Nishimoto and another Indonesian Anthony Ginting settled for bronze medals.
Likewise, Rashid believes Zii Jia and Tze Yong can also script their own revival by going for medals in Hangzhou.