BIRMINGHAM: Wong Choong Hann is looking ahead to the Olympics in Athens next year with great optimism after becoming the first Malaysian shuttler to play in the men's singles final in the World Badminton Championships which ended here on Sunday.
Choong Hann may have lost a good chance to bag the elusive title but he will not go back home empty handed. The Malaysian gave a fighting display before losing to Chinas Xia Xuanze 6-15, 15-13, 6-15 in the mens singles final.
Choong Hann will return home on Wednesday morning (7.30am) with a silver medal as the best ever Malaysian singles performance in the World Championships.
The 26-year-old will also earn RM40,000 under the National Sports Council (NSC) incentive scheme but more importantly, he has gained a headstart to his Olympics campaign.
The World Championships is the only designated seven-star competition on the International Badminton Federation (IBF) calendar and the first to offer qualifying points for next years Olympics.
By making it all the way into the final and also beating two players seeded higher than him, the Malaysian should have picked up a considerable amount of ranking points to boost his position in the world rankings.
Choong Hann, seeded ninth in the world meet, ousted fourth seed Anders Boesen from Denmark 15-8, 15-2 and sixth seed Sony Dwi Kuncoro 15-8, 15-4 in the last 16 and the quarter-final respectively.
Choong Hann is currently ranked seventh in the world but is expected to jump into the top four bracket again before the week is over.
It is a good start for my Olympic hopes. I am certainly looking forward to qualifying in a good position to pose a challenge, said the lefthander.
However, the Olympics is still far away and it is important for me to play well in all competitions from now onwards.
For the Olympics, each country is allowed to have a maximum of three representatives for each event.
Choong Hann was seeded fourth when he qualified for his first Olympics in Sydney three years ago.
However, his target of making the semi-finals in the Olympics was dashed after he lost 15-17, 11-15 to Xuanze.
On Sunday, it was Xuanze who again denied Choong Hann. He managed to stretch Xuanze to three games but made the mistake of allowing the speedy Chinese too much space.
Xuanze, this years winner of the Japan Open, read Choong Hanns game well and the Malaysian knew it was all over when he was level at six-all in the rubber game.
I knew I had lost the chance when I could not get any points from six service changeovers.
He had read my game plan and was controlling the pace, said Choong Hann.
I have learnt something from this defeat. I believe Im capable of beating him if we meet again.
I have to vary my tactics if I have to beat him. If we meet again, I know what to do, said the Malaysian, who lifted the China Open title last year.
Until last week, no Malaysian singles shuttler had managed to win a medal in the World Championships. Rashid Sidek came closest to doing so when he made the quarter-finals twice in Beijing 87 and Lausanne 95.
Rashid and Misbun Sidek are now handling the national team and there are good indications that the players are poised to do well in the coming Singapore, Indonesian and Malaysian Opens.
My performance is now okay and I have recovered from my injury. I am looking forward to these meets as there are many ranking points on offer.
Choong Hann had a partial muscle tear in his right leg which saw him missing the Korean and Japan Opens in April.