Hafiz gets a big boost, Chen Jin withdraws from tournament

PETALING JAYA: Mohd Hafiz Hashim received a boost to his Asian Badminton Championships (ABC) campaign after top seed Chen Jin of China pulled out of the competition beginning today in Suwon, South Korea.

The withdrawal of the world No. 3 has certainly brightened Hafiz’s chances of making a second successive final appearance after the India Open last month.

However, Hafiz, who was tipped to play against Chen Jin in the semi-finals, said that he would prefer to concentrate on clearing the early rounds first.

Hafiz will open his campaign against Indian qualifier Paneru Raju today and a win will give him a probable match in the evening against 2007 world champion Chen Long of China.

“My draw is quite good but I have to play well against Chen Long. If I beat him, I have a good chance to go far. I believe if I maintain my momentum, a place in the final is not out of my reach. But I do not want to think too far at this point,” said the former All-England champion yesterday.

In the recent India Open, Hafiz defeated Chen Long to reach his first final in three years. He was beaten by former Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia in the final but the outing in Hyderabad certainly gave Hafiz a lifeline to put his badminton career back on track.

Hafiz needs to do well in the ABC or he could find himself out of the national training squad.

“I have spent more time in the gym working on my fitness and I have shed a few kilos. There is improvement in my game,” said Hafiz, who has extra reasons to do well in Suwon.

The runner-up finish in the India Open helped him to move up the world rankings in 24th spot and Hafiz has a chance to be considered for the World Championships in August if he puts up another strong performance.

A country can have three entries for the championships if all are ranked among the top 24.

Like Hafiz, Kuan Beng Hong also needs to give a convincing performance to keep his place in the national training squad.

Beng Hong opens against Yamada Kazushi of Japan but will face a very high hurdle to clear to get to the third round against either China’s Qiu Yanbo or fourth seed Bao Chunlai.

The national back-up squad’s singles shuttlers have tough first-round matches. Chong Wei Feng and Tan Chun Seang will be up against Du Pengyu of China and 11th seed Ng Wei of Hong Kong respectively.

Mohd Arif Abdul Latif and Liew Daren will face each other in the second round if the get past Taiwan’s Liao Sheng-shiun and ninth seed Sho Sasaki of Japan respectively.

In the women’s singles, national No. 1 Julia Wong has a tricky first-round match against Korean Jang Soo-young.

And Wong Mew Choo, who reached the quarter-finals in her first competition for the year at the India Open, meets Mong Kwan Yi and will be looking at beating the Hong Kong player for the second time in three weeks.

Lydia Cheah and Sannatasah Saniru have Taiwan’s Chen Hsiao-huan and second seed Lu Lan of China as their respective first-round opponents.

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