Uber Cup team make history by qualifying for Finals on merit

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian women shuttlers made history yesterday when they beat India to qualify for the Uber Cup Finals on merit for the very first time.  

And they did it style, with a smashing 4-1 victory over the Indians. 

Malaysia finished as Group A runners-up in the Uber Cup Asian Zone qualifying tournament at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Stadium in Cheras here yesterday and can now walk alongside the men's Thomas Cup team in Jakarta from May 7-16. 

The Malaysian women have never qualified for the Finals on merit. They featured in the Finals in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 2000 but only because Malaysia were the hosts. 

After the win against India, Malaysia went on to play top seeds South Korea in the semi-finals. And the girls came out with their heads held high with only a narrow 3-2 defeat. 

POWER-PACKED GIRLS: The Malaysian Uber Cup team celebrating after they made the cut for the Finals on merit for the first time. Bottom row (from left) Wong Mew Choo, Julia Wong, Wong Pei Tty, Woon Sze Mei. Second row: Mooi Hing Yau, Fong Chew Yen, Chin Eei Hui (centre), Norsyahliza Baharum, Wong Miew Kheng and Ooi Sock Ai.--STARpic by S.S. KANESAN.

National singles chief coach Misbun Sidek was a very happy man. “This is certainly a very special day for the women players. For the first time, they have qualified for the Finals on merit. I am overjoyed, pleased and proud? I am having goose bumps just talking about it. 

“The attention we have given to the women of late has paid off. This breakthrough, I hope, will stoke their passion to achieve even higher goals.” 

A sizzling Mew Choo set Malaysia on the road to the Finals when she upset world No 24 Aparna Popat with an 11-9, 11-2 win; Woon Sze Mei got her sweet revenge over B. R. Meenakshi 11-9, 11-9; both doubles pairs - Chin Eei Hui-Wong Pei Tty and Fong Chew Yen-Ooi Sock Ai then delivered, winning their matches in straight games. 

Youngster Norsyahliza Baharum, who has been in exceptional form throughout the tournament, was the only casualty but she did not go down without a fight either in her 7-11, 6-11 defeat by Trupti Murgunde.. 

The 21-year-old Mew Choo, certainly made all the difference yesterday. 

After having been a poor shadow of herself against Japan's Kanako Yonekura on Tuesday, the Vietnam SEA Games champion, ranked only 95th in the world, was in a neck-to-neck fight in the first game.  

Aparna and Mew Choo were tied 2-2 before the Malaysian, banking on one serve, pulled away with an 11-2 win. 

“I knew the odds were stacked against me. But I was so relaxed today. Unlike the other day, I did not get worked up when I made silly mistakes. But Aparna could not cope with the pressure. The win was so important for the team. I am glad I was able to deliver it,” said a delighted Mew Choo. 

Her win lifted the morale of the team. And then it was the turn of Cheah Soon Kit's charges Eei Hui and Pei Tty. They did not disappoint, chalking up a 15-5, 15-12 win over Gupta Jwala-Shruti Kurian. 

Said Soon Kit: “I am proud to be part of this team's achievement. They did not show their nerves and played exceptionally well.” 

But star of the piece yesterday was the 27-year-old Sze Mei. “I knew the point was vital. I lost to Meenakshi in the Indian Satellite last year. I sent the shuttle to the back, made her run and tried to tire her. It worked. But I got very anxious in the second game. I was leading 10-4 and already thought of celebrating the victory,” said Sze Mei, who also delivered a point against South Korea in the semi-final. 

The 24-year-old Meenakshi made a remarkable comeback, winning five points in a row. But Sze Mei finally re-discovered her touch and delivered the winning point. 

The Malaysian camp erupted in joy. 

In the dead rubber, Chew Yen-Sock Ai defeated M. Fatima Nazneen-Manjusha Kanwar 15-13, 15-3.