PETALING JAYA: The national women bowlers face an uphill task in their bid to end an eight-year title drought in the Malaysian Open with several reigning World Championships gold medallists confirming their participation in the annual event at the Pyramid Mega Lanes from March 14-26 .
American Diandra Hyman, the Masters champion in last years World Championships, will make a return to the venue of her success in an attempt to win the Malaysian Open Masters crown for the first time.
Youngster Zara Clover, triple gold medallists in the World Championships, who also brought England their first gold in the meet after 20 years, will also be here.
Defending champion Liza Del Rosario, who steered the Philippines team to the gold medal in the trios, will also mount a strong challenge.
Another top bowler who has confirmed her participation is 2002 World Ranking Masters champion Jennifer Tan of Singapore.
Other major threats include the bowlers from the national teams of South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, England, the United States, Norway, Panama, Belgium, Mongolia, Kuwait, and also from the middle eastern countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
With a galaxy of stars expected to grace the event, the Malaysian womens team led by Shalin Zulkifli certainly face an uphill task in ending the long wait to see a local champion.
Shalin was the last Malaysian to win the title, back in 1996.
Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress (MTBC) secretary Sidney Tung said this years Malaysian Open would be very competitive with the confirmation of a star-studded cast, especially bowlers who have won honours at world level.
I am honoured to announce the participation of many top class bowlers from Asia and other zones. These big names will also be joined our very own worlds best.
There will be fair lane conditions, similar to the ones we had during the World Championships and I expect a great competition, said Sidney.
The Malaysian team will be represented by the World Championships gold medal winning team of Shalin, Sarah Yap, Choy Poh Lai and Wendy Chai. The members of the mens World Tenpin Team Cup winning team are Azidi Ameran, Ben Heng, Alex Liew, Zulmazran Zulkifli, Daniel Lim and Jonathan Lim.
National chief coach Chris Batson said: Besides Shalin, I expect Sarah to perform well in this Malaysian Open. She has improved by leaps and bounds. In the mens event, Jonathan will be our best bet. Among the newcomers in the national team that I expect to do well are Adrian Ang and Zandra Aziela.
Azidi is the defending champion in the mens competition.
He, too, will have a strong cast of foreign bowlers for company. They include Filipino C. J. Suarez (reigning AMF World Cup champion), Kim Haugen of Norway (2001 AMF World Cup champion), Belgiums Gery Verbruggen (2002 World Ranking Masters champion and reigning European champion), UAEs Shaker Ali Al Hassan (Asian Championships singles winner), Singaporean Remy Ong (Asian Games triple gold medallist) and Qatars Ahmed Shaheen (1999 World Cup and World Championships Masters champion.)
Sidney added that lucrative prizes would be offered for perfect games and it was expected to raise standards even higher.
The first bowler to score a perfect game (300 pins) will win a Canon digital video camcorder worth RM19,500 while others who score 300s will be given Canon digital cameras worth RM5,100.
But a bowler to strike a perfect game during the Masters Finals will take home RM100,000.
Yesterday, the MTBC received mock cheques from their championships sponsors, which included Sri Jentayu Sdn Bhd, Canon, Malaysia Airlines, Milo Nestle, Pyramid Mega Lanes, Sunway Lagoon Resort, Antioni and Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel in a simple ceremony here yesterday.