Badminton: Plenty to cheer about despite Asian meet whitewash

THERE were no titles for Malaysia in the Asian Badminton Championships (ABC) but the the return to form of several players is a timely boost for the national badminton team ahead of next month’s Thomas Cup Finals.

The prominent ones were the two men’s singles shuttlers – Mohd Hafiz Hashim, Wong Choong Hann – and the doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong.

Nation’s pride: Indonesia’s mixed doubles champions Flandy Limpele(left) and Vita Marissa posing on the podium after beating compatriotsLiliyana Natsir-Nova Widianto. – Reuters

All of them achieved their best performances for this year at the ABC.

Hafiz probably, was the most outstanding among the lot.

He knocked out China’s Bao Chunlai – a player that he had last defeated at the 2002 Thomas Cup Finals in Guangzhou. He lost to Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia in the quarter-finals but not after giving a good fight.

But the fear with Hafiz is that whether he could keep the momentum going at least until the Finals, which will be held in Jakarta from May 11-18.

Revival: Hafiz showed his truecolours in Johor Baru.

In the five years since his sensational 2003 All-England victory, Hafiz has stumped his fans with his once-in-a-while good performances.

Last year, he reached the semi-finals of the Korean Open but sank again into oblivion until his recent exploit at the ABC.

National singles coach Misbun Sidek is keeping his fingers crossed that Hafiz’s revival will continue on a up-trend this time around.

“What I saw in Hafiz this time is his determination to prove a point, which is good. The fire in him is back but I hope it will not go missing after this,” said Misbun.

“He must ride on this success and build on it. If he can sustain this form, we will have a strong third singles player in Hafiz at the Thomas Cup Finals,” he said.

The world number 15th Choong Hann also sparked hopes with his first appearance in a quarter-final this year in the ABC after struggling to find his footing despite sealing a place in the Beijing Olympic Games recently.

“I came here with a hope to re-discover my game. And I cannot be too wrong to say that I found it. Now, I must continue to work on this to be better prepared for the Finals and the Olympics,” said Choong Hann.

In the men’s doubles event, Kien Keat-Boon Heong emerged as Malaysia’s top performer in the ABC when they reached the semi-finals.

Despite their defeat to All-England winner and eventual ABC champions Lee Yong-dae-Jung Jae-sung, the Malaysian pair made a breakthrough – as far as their confidence is concerned.

Kien Keat and Boon Heong are feeling good about their comeback efforts after a lean spell on the international scene.

And based on national doubles coach Rexy Mainaky’s assessment, Kien Keat-Boon Heong are the favourites when he compares them with all the second pairs from the top countries gearing up for the Thomas Cup Finals.

Repeat joy: China’s Jiang Yanjiao successfully defended herwomen’s singles crown. – UU BAN / The Star

In the women’s competition, probably, Lydia Cheah and Goh Liu Ying were the only bright spots for Malaysia in the ABC.

Lydia upset Kaori Mori of Japan in the first round of the women’s singles while Liu Ying gave a good performances in the qualifying competition of the mixed doubles event, partnering Kien Keat.

But the two women will have to be more consistent if they hope to play a role in the Uber Cup Finals.

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