PETALING JAYA: With veteran doubles pair of Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah not among the qualifiers for the Proton National Grand Prix Finals, the spotlight will be on Doha Asian Games gold medallists Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong in the tournament in Kuala Terengganu from Feb 8-11.
With the third leg of the Super Series, the All-England only taking place next month, the top national shuttlers will focus their attention on the Finals before taking a break for the Chinese New Year.
Kien Keat-Boon Heong have produced sensational results on the international stage since they forged a partnership for the Japan Open late last year. They emerged as the runners-up and went on to end a 36-year gold drought for Malaysia in the Asiad badminton in Doha last December.
And in the opening round of the inaugural Super Series, the Malaysian Open, they went all the way from the qualifying tournament to lift the title. In last week's Korean Open, they reached the semi-finals.
Being the best performing pair in the national team over the last three months, Kien Keat-Boon Heong will start as the favourites to become the new national champions and secure an early ang pow for the Chinese New Year.
For Kien Keat, he will be bidding to win the national title for the third time. He won it, partnering Chan Chong Ming, in 2004 and 2005.
However, Kien Keat-Boon Heong can expect stiff challenges from their teammates in the battle for the RM11,000 winners' purse.
They have been drawn in Group A with defending champions Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Lin Woon Fui, Khoo Chung Chiat-Mohd Razif Latif and Ong Jian Guo-Goh Wei Shem.
Group B will also see close fights for semi-final spots. It comprises Kuala Lumpur Open champions Chan Chong Ming-Hoon Thien How, Gan Teik Chai-Mohd Zakry Latif and Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock and Bukit Jalil Sports School's Lim Khim Wah-Mak Hee Chun.
National chief coach Yap Kim Hock said: “The standards are close among the national pairs. Kien Keat-Boon Heong may be the favourites but it will not be easy for them. It is going to be interesting to see who emerge as the winners this time.”
At the Kuala Lumpur Open, Kien Keat-Boon Heong were beaten by Fairuzizuan-Woon Fui in the semi-finals.
Lee Chong Wei will also be in the spotlight in Kuala Terengganu. He will be bidding to win the men's singles crown for the fifth consecutive time.
Chong Wei should have no problem advancing to the semi-finals from Group A and he is expected to play against Group C top seed Yeoh Kay Bin for a place in the final.
An interesting fight is in store in Group B between Kuan Beng Hong and Wong Choong Hann for a place in the semi-finals. The winner is likely to play against Mohd Hafiz Hashim.
Group A: Lee Chong Wei, Chong Li Qun, Azrihanif Azahar, Kuan Kam Chung.
Group B: Yeoh Kay Bin, James Chua, Chong Wei Feng, Teo Kok Siang.
Group C: Kuan Beng Hong, Wong Choong Hann, Liew Darren, Lim Fang Yang.
Group D: Mohd Hafiz Hashim, K. Yogendran, Lim Kenn, Zairul Hafiz Zainuddin.
Group A: Wong Mew Choo, Vivian Hoo, Ooi Swee Wenn, Sanatasah Saniru.
Group B: Julia Wong, Lydia Cheah, Stephanie Shalini, Tiffany Chase Currier.
Group A: Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Lin Woon Fui, Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Khoo Chung Chiat-Mohd Razif Latif, Ong Jian Guo-Goh Wei Shem.
Group A: Gan Teik Chai-Mohd Zakry Latif, Chan Chong Ming-Hoon Thien How, Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock, Lim Khim Wah-Mak Hee Chun.
Group A: Chin Eei Hui-Wong Pei Tty, Lydia Cheah-Woon Khe Wei, Ooi Sock Ai-Ooi Yu Hang, Goh Liu Ying-Ho Bee Ling.
Group B: Fong Chew Yen-See Phui Leng, Julia Wong-Haw Chiou Hwee, Tee Jing Yi-Vivian Hoo, Lim Yee Theng-Ng Paou Ling.
Group A: Koo Kien Keat-Wong Pei Tty, Mohd Zakry Latif-Ooi Sock Ai, Chan Peng Soon-Lim Yin Loo, Mak Hee Chun-Sanatasah Saniru.
Group B: Gan Teik Chai-Fong Chew Yen, Tan Bin Shen-Ooi Yu Hang, Khoo Chung Chiat-Haw Chiou Hwee, Lim Khim Wah-Goh Liu Ying.