PETALING JAYA: Zulfadli Zulkifli (pic) is brimming with confidence after leading Malaysia to a historic first world junior badminton team title in Taiwan on Sunday.
Now, he aims to end his junior career on another high by winning the individual crown, which would be another first for Malaysia.
The lanky Zulfadli has had an incredible year so far, winning the elusive National Junior Circuit title in May before going on to become the first Malaysian to capture the Asian Junior singles crown in India in July.
After Sunday’s triumph, the second-seeded Zulfadli is ready to make history once again when the individual events of the world junior meet start today.
His task has been helped by the fact that defending champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark has appeared out of sorts throughout the tournament.
“There’s no doubt that Viktor is still the strongest player in the field,” said the KLRC-sponsored Zulfadli.
“But he has been far from impressive, struggling in the team matches. Maybe he is still trying to adapt to the playing conditions ... it is certainly an advantage for me.
“But I’m not thinking too far ahead. I would rather take it one match at a time because even though the draw is favourable, it would be silly to underestimate the other players.
“I’m well prepared for the individual event and, hopefully, I’ll stay injury-free and end my junior career with a bang.”
The 18-year-old KL lad has a first-round bye and will take on Finland’s Henri Aarnio in the second round.
The draw has indeed been quite favourable for Zulfadli, with only Pratul Joshi of India and Kento Momota of Japan likely to pose any danger in his half. Axelsen is the top seed and tipped to meet Zulfadli in the final.
The other Malaysian boys in the singles fray are Goh Giap Chin, Nur Mohd Azriyn Ayup and Soong Joo Vern.
In the boys’ doubles, defending champions Nelson Heg-Teo Ee Yi are seeded joint third-fourth and expected to make a run to the semi-finals where they will face second seeds Lucas Corvee-Joris Grosjean of France.
Malaysia’s hero in the team final, Sonia Cheah, is seeded joint fifth-eighth in the girls’ singles and receives a first-round bye. She faces a tricky second round clash against Filipina Malvinne Ann Venice Alcala.