JOHOR BARU: Top seed Lai Kok Seong of Selangor, making a comeback after a one-year layoff, is in line for his first singles title in the MML-LTAM National Circuit.
He reached his first final in three years without even lifting his racquet. And in the absence of his bogeyman, V. Selvam, who is skipping the second leg here, he looks good for the title.
Kok Seong, 25, was given a free ride into today's final at the Johor Tennis Academy in Taman Perling when his doubles partner and compatriot Adrian Tan was forced to concede his semi-final match after coming down with food poisoning.
The two-time Sukma gold medallist in Pahang in 1996 and Selangor in 1998, will meet second seeded Nikesh Singh of Penang in the final. The up-and-coming Nikesh, 17, who won the Penang Open International Junior Under-18 title beat compatriot Muhammad Noor Noordin 7-5, 6-2 in the semis.
This is my best chance to win the title after the disappointment of falling at the semi-finals stage in my previous three attempts. I am confident of beating Nikesh, said Kok Seong.
Kok Seong and Nikesh met once before in the National Hardcourt Championships two years ago with the former coming out tops. Kok Seong, a freelance coach in Mount Kiara, has been stopped by Selvam in each of his previous three semi-final appearances in the MML championships.
His most recent defeat at the hands of Selvam was in Kuala Lumpur in this year's first-leg held last month.
Nikesh, however, is planning on taking over from Selvam. I will let my racquet do the talking, said Nikesh after demolishing Johor's hope Ruhil Amal Razali in the semifinals with a 7-5, 6-2 win.
In the men's doubles Nikesh and Muhammad Noor walked away with the men's doubles title after beating the scratch pair of Ruhil and Abdul Hazli Zainuddin of Negri Sembilan 7-6, 6-0 in the final.
Ruhil and Hazli, the top seeds, were expected to win easily but the Penang pair, seeded second, took the wind out of the favourites by taking the first set 7-6 in a nail biting affair. It was a breeze for the champions in the second set as they romped home 6-0 to pocket the RM400 prize money that came with it. The runners-up took home RM250.
In the semi-finals, the Penang pair received a walkover from Kok Seong and Adrian while Ruhil and Hazli beat Wong Khar Keon of Kuala Lumpur and Shawn Lee of Sarawak 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.