Yee Khan: Good understanding the key to our success

Best of pals: Tan Yee Khan (left) with Ng Boon Bee in this picturetaken in 2001.

NO men’s doubles pair have won more titles in the Malaysian Open than the famous Ipoh stars Tan Yee Khan and Ng Boon Bee. They won it for a record four times. 

But without a single dominant pair in the world of badminton in recent times, their record could stand for a very long time.  

The 66-year-old Yee Khan remembers vividly his glorious playing days. 

“When we were playing, everything was heavy – the wooden racquet, the bags, the shoes. We used more energy. Now, the speed of the game has increased and the scoring format is different. But the style of the game has not changed that much,” said Yee Khan, who believed his partnerships pioneered the attacking game style. 

“My partnership with Boon Bee started in 1957. Both of us had taken part in the Malaysian Combined Schools competition.  

“Then, our team manager Thoe Boon Teng suggested that we team up. There was no turning back for us. We were so aggressive.” 

In fact, Yee Khan can count on the fingers of one hand the number of losses he suffered in his partnership with Boon Hee – they lost just three times. 

“We lost in the first round of the 1957 Malaysian Open. It was our first international tournament but that defeat spurred us on. The other two losses were during one of our outings in the Commonwealth Games and the All-England,” he said. 

So dominant were they that the organisers in India practically gave them their bounty first. 

“Prior to a tournament in India, we were taken sight-seeing. The Indian BA officer asked what we liked best when we went into a gift shop. Later, we won and we were given the gift that we had liked earlier. They said they had known that we would win.” 

On his sweetest win, Yee Khan said: “It must be the 1965 All-England. It was our first trip to Europe. We had to pay half the fare while the BAM paid the other half. That was the rule then. We went around seeking donations from others. We managed to collect RM1,000. And the greatest moment in our lives was when we won the title that year.” 

Yee Khan said it took great understanding between them to maintain their game at their level all the time. 

“We were like-minded when we were on court. It is not easy to be champions all the time – especially in the doubles.  

“Both of us understood each other well and that was the key to our success,” he said. 

Today, though, he feels the pairings lack the right foundation. 

“We were very independent as a pair. There were no videos to assess our opponents. We remembered how past champions played. We did our own analyses and we learnt to be thinking players,” he said. 

“In China, players as young as 12 years old go for full-time training. In Malaysia, they go full-time after their Form Five studies when they are 17. By then it is too late to lay the foundation.”  

Yee Khan, who collapsed during training at the 1968 SEAP Games leading to the break-up of the partnership with Boon Bee, said a player should be motivated by a champion. 

“Players should always think about winning. And a former champion should inspire them. I am happy with the way Indonesian Rexy (Mainaky) is dealing with our players. He is a champion and our players, I hope, are following his winning ways.” 

The 69-year-old Boon Bee, who went on to play with Punch Gunalan for several years before quitting in 1972, said he sees one current Malaysian pair – Doha Asian Games gold medallists Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong – as a dominant pair in the world. 

Other than the Sidek brothers – Razif and Jalani – in the 1980s and the Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang and Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock pairings in the 1990s Malaysia have been starved of doubles stars. 

“I like this pair who won the Asian Games gold. Their style is similar to ours.  

“They are very aggressive and are attacking players. I have seen many pairs come and go but I think this pair can make a difference,” said Boon Bee. 

Boon Bee, however, said success would not come easy. 

“Malaysian players are a pampered lot. Discipline is the key. I hope this pair (Kien Keat-Boon Heong) will continue to work hard,” said Boon Bee.  

“If they are willing to go the distance, I am confident that they can rule in the men’s doubles department – just like we did.”  

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