KUALA LUMPUR: Shuttler Lee Chong Wei has proven himself in domestic competitions and he should now be given more opportunities to show his worth on the international stage.
En route to becoming the second youngest player to win the national title at the Selangor BA Hall in Kampung Attap here on Sunday, the 21-year-old Chong Wei upstaged seniors Wong Choong Hann, Sairul Amar Ayob and Ismail Saman.
The win over world number three and national number one Choong Hann in the semi-finals of the National Grand Prix Finals was the biggest achievement in Chong Wei's badminton career. The win will certainly give the Penangite a place in the national team.
But with the entries closed for both the All-England (Feb 12-16) and Swiss Open (Feb 19-23), Chong Wei can only look forward to be included in the team for the Open tournaments in Japan and South Korean in April.
It would have done Chong Wei a world of good if he were to play in the All-England and Swiss Opens. After all, he is not getting any younger.
Chinese players, among them Bao Chunlai and Lin Dan, and Indonesian Taufik Hidayat were already winning international Open titles before they turned 20.
But Chong Wei could come in a replacement if national singles head coach Misbun Sidek decides to drop any All-England bound players, who showed poor form in training. Malaysia will be represented in the men's singles of the All-England by Choong Hann, James Chua, Lee Tsuen Seng, Yong Hock Kin and the Hashim brothers from Nusa Mahsuri, Roslin and Hafiz.
Tsuen Seng, Hock Kin and the Hashim brothers did not qualify for the GP Finals because they skipped one or two legs of the local circuit.
It is not new that seniors skipped tournaments on the local circuit and this is a serious matter for the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to look into. They should ensure that all the top players take part in the local circuit. The youngster will not get to judge where they stand against them in competition if they continue to stay away.
Misbun agreed that it was time for Chong Wei to prove himself in the international arena.
“We have made plans to send Chong Wei for the Korean and Japan Opens. Chong Wei plays a thinking game and this will certainly bring him far,” said Misbun.
“But he has to be consistent and more mature in his game if he hopes to make it good in international competitions. Some players do well in local tournaments but dish out below par performances in international tournaments.”
For Chong Wei, the national title is a big breakthrough for him since getting into the national ranks two years ago but he will not allow the success get to his head.
“It is a good win for me and I am now feeling more confident of doing well in international tournaments. I still have a lot to improve on to be on par with the best players in the world,” said Chong Wei, who hopes to improve on his current world ranking of 85 to top 30 by the end of the year.
“It will be great if I can go beyond the semi-finals in international Grand Prix tournaments this year.”
Chong Wei's best effort thus far is a semi-final appearance in the 2001 Thailand Open.
Last year, he was a first round casualty in the Korean and Japan Open; made it to the second round in the Asian Badminton Championships and China Open; and was eliminated in the third round of the Indonesia Open.
Besides Chong Wei, youngster Kuan Beng Hong, 20, also scored a major upset in the GP Finals, beating defending champion James in their opening Group C match.
In the women's singles, 20-year-old Wong Mew Choo turned the tables on the experienced Ng Mee Fen, scoring a convincing 11-4, 11-1 victory to win her first national title.
The BAM president, Datuk Nadzmi Mohd Salleh, said that the exploits of the young players augured well for the future of badminton in the country.
“I will be worried if the seniors continue to win in the national meet every year. The improvement of the juniors shows us that badminton in our country is heading on the right direction.
“The progress of the youngsters will certainly put the seniors on their toes. There will be better results with this healthy competition in the national team.”
But the juniors are still lagging behind in the doubles.
As expected the national number one pairs of Chan Chong Ming-Chew Choon Eng and Chin Eei Hui-Wong Pei Tty won the men's and women's doubles respectively.
Choon Eng and Eei Hui also teamed up to emerge as the mixed doubles champions.