Expectations rise for Jun Hao as he takes over mantle from Tze Yong

PETALING JAYA: The heat is on men’s singles shuttler Leong Jun Hao (pic) to step up and deliver in the second singles in the Thomas Cup Finals from April 27-May 5 in Chengdu in the absence of Ng Tze Yong.

The country’s No. 3 Jun Hao is set to be promoted to the second singles after No. 2 Tze Yong was ruled out of the team meet after failing to recover fully from back surgery.

The other singles players in the team are Lee Zii Jia, Cheam June Wei and youngster Justin Hoh.

Doubles player Choong Hon Jian has been called up to replace the vacant spot left by Tze Yong in the team.

Hon Jian will now join partner Mohd Haikal Nazri, Aaron Chia, Soh Wooi Yik, Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin Rumsani in the doubles line-up.

While Malaysia’s options in the doubles are solid, the singles look shaky.

Jun Hao, who is currently ranked No. 37 in the world, faces a tough task to fill the void left behind by world No. 18 Tze Yong.

This will not be the first time though that he has been asked to take on greater responsibility in a team event this year.

In the Asia Team Championships in February in Shah Alam, Jun Hao played as the second singles for nearly the entire tournament and even in the first singles against China in the final after Zii Jia came down with a sinus issue.

The 24-year-old took up the challenge, beating Taiwan’s Lee Chia-hao and Singapore’s Joel Koh in the group stage and quarter-finals respectively before going down fighting to Japan’s Koki Watanabe and China’s Weng Hongyang in the last four and final.

Malaysia finished runners-up after losing 0-3 to China.

Jun Hao will need to show the same fighting spirit in the Thomas Cup where he will face more difficult opponents.

In the group stage, the 2017 Asian Junior champion will likely go up against the likes of world No. 4 Anders Antonsen of Denmark and Hong Kong’s world No. 27 Angus Ng Ka Long after Malaysia were pitted against both the countries in Group D.

Malaysia will open their campaign against Hong Kong before playing Algeria and 2016 champions Denmark.

National coaching director Rexy Mainaky acknowledged that Malaysia’s chances of surviving the group will depend on the first two singles Zii Jia and Jun Hao.

“A win against Hong Kong will depend on our first two singles Zii Jia and now Jun Hao,” said Rexy.

“It will be a tricky first match for us and we must also make sure our two doubles pairs deliver the points too.

“Hopefully, everything goes smoothly and we can win either 4-1 or 3-2.

“We will have one leg in the quarter-finals if we beat Hong Kong,” added Rexy.

Only the top two teams in the group will make it to the last eight.

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