Mission to end long Thomas Cup title drought resumes in Chengdu

Securing a victory against Hong Kong is critical for Malaysia to clear the group stage early.

29 Apr 2024 10:05pm
Japan faces a straightforward path to dominating Group B, as they will be pitted against Taiwan, Germany and the Czech Republic. - FILE PIX
Japan faces a straightforward path to dominating Group B, as they will be pitted against Taiwan, Germany and the Czech Republic. - FILE PIX

CHENGDU - Go big or go home. That certainly would be the case for the current national men’s badminton squad, who are hoping to etch their names in the history books by ending the country’s 32-year Thomas Cup drought in the highly anticipated 2024 edition in Chengdu, China, set to kick off tomorrow.

The Badminton Association of Malaysia even threw down the gauntlet to fellow players, stating that bringing home the Thomas Cup is an achievable feat, provided they exhibit unwavering patriotic and fighting spirit throughout the tournament held at the Chengdu High-Tech Zone Sports Centre.

However, the team’s preparation has been plagued by several off-court issues within the men’s singles camp, including controversies surrounding national men’s singles professional shuttler Lee Zii Jia and the absence of Ng Tze Yong due to delayed recovery from back surgery.

Zii Jia once again stole the limelight ahead of the tournament, as he had previously demanded payment for ‘image rights’ and opted out of joining the national team’s one-week training camp at Akademi Badminton Malaysia, Bukit Kiara.

Now that the world number 10 is part of the team, the Thomas Cup presents a prime opportunity for him to silence his critiques, giving his all to contribute valuable points for Malaysia in Chengdu.

This was due to the fact that the All England 2021 champion could potentially be the safest bet for Malaysia, given the ‘fragility’ of the men’s singles camp at the moment.

Looking back at his team event performance since 2022, the 26-year-old impressed by losing just once in 18 matches, with three wins during the Thomas Cup 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand, prior to Malaysia’s 3-2 defeat to India in the quarterfinals.

Accompanying Zii Jia are former 2017 Asian Junior champion Leong Jun Hao, who may take a role as second singles, followed by Cheam June Wei and Justin Hoh.

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Malaysia’s true strength lies in the doubles department, spearheaded by 2022 world champions Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, Badminton Asia Championships (BAC) 2024 runners-up Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani and promising duo Muhammad Haikal Nazri-Choong Hon Jian.

ed by Wooi Yik as team captain, Malaysia, seeded fifth and holding five championship titles, will open their Group D campaign against Hong Kong tomorrow morning.

The national men’s singles camp must tread cautiously against the threat posed by Hong Kong, as the Malaysian ‘secret’ lies in the hands of former national player and coach Wong Choong Hann.

As Hong Kong’s men’s singles coach, Choong Hann may use his expertise to assist world number 15 Lee Cheuk Yiu, Angus Ng Ka Long, and Jason Gunawan in warding off Zii Jia and his teammates.

Although Malaysia holds a clear advantage in doubles, they should not disregard the potential influence of Choong Tan Fook, a former national men’s doubles player, whose guidance could unveil strategies for his team to potentially upset their opponents.

Securing a victory against Hong Kong is critical for Malaysia to clear the group stage early, as they would have no problem powering past minnows from African region Algeria on Sunday before bringing the Group D curtain down against 2016 champions and European powerhouse Denmark.

On paper, the Danes have an upper hand against Malaysia, boasting the likes of world number one Viktor Axelsen and world number four Anders Antonsen to represent their men’s singles, as well as world number four pair Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen.

The strong home backing could well inspire top favourite China to lift the cup for the 11th time after they last clinched the trophy during the 2018 edition in Bangkok by beating the then reigning champions, Japan, 3-1.

China, which fielded a strong line-up including world number two Shi Yu Qi and world number six Li Shi Feng, as well as the newly-crowned BAC men’s doubles champions, Liang Wei Keng-Wang Chang, will be a team to beat in Group A, which also featured South Korea, Canada and Australia.

In Group B, all eyes will surely be on Japan, as they are looking to secure second titles and give a perfect send-off for Kento Momota, the two-time world champion, who is set to retire from international badminton after the Chengdu meet. Japan faces a straightforward path to dominating Group B, as they will be pitted against Taiwan, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Despite retaining eight out of 10 similar faces, including Lakshya Sen, H.S Prannoy, Kidambi Srikanth and 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games men’s doubles champion Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, who helped India create history to claim their maiden Thomas Cup, a daunting task lies ahead for them as they were drawn in Group C.

Dubbed the Group of Death, Group C promises an exciting contest as the defending champions will face off against the most successful team in Thomas Cup history and 14-time champions, Indonesia, followed by Thailand and England.

Onto the Uber Cup action, the exclusion of the national top women’s doubles pair, Pearly Tan-M Thinaah, from the tournament might hamper the tenth seeded team in Group B, which includes fourth-seeded Thailand, sixth-seeded Taiwan and Australia.

Despite low expectations for the women’s squad, this edition would serve as a great platform for doubles shuttler Teoh Mei Xing to step up and inspire her teammates, comprising Goh Jin Wei, K. Letshanaa, Siti Nurshuhaini Azman, Wong Ling Ching, Siti Zulaikha Azmi, Go Pei Kee, Tan Zhing Yi, Ho Le Ee and Chan Wen Tse, to perform proudly.

Much like the men’s team, China’s women’s squad, who are also last edition’s runners-up, will line up a formidable squad in their bid to wrest the title from South Korea and hope for a fourth triumph on home soil, having won all three championships previously in Guangzhou 2022, Wuhan 2012 and Kunshan 2016.

Four world’s top ten singles players, comprising world number two Chen Yu Fei, sixth-ranked He Bing Jiao, Han Yue (world number seven) and Wang Zhi Yi (ranked eighth), alongside world number one women’s doubles duo Chen Qing Chen-Jia Yi Fan and world number three pair Liu Sheng Shu-Tan Ning, will play their part in Group A against India, Canada and Singapore.

Another favourite, Japan, will heavily rely on two-time world champion Akane Yamaguchi and their depth in doubles, including fourth-ranked Nami Matsuyama-Chiharu Shida, to improve their performance after taking bronze in Bangkok 2022. Indonesia poses a fierce challenge for Japan in Group C, alongside Hong Kong and Uganda.

On the other hand, world number one wonen’s singles player An Se Young and the world's current second-best women’s doubles duo Baek Ha Na-Lee So Hee will headline the South Korean team in Group D, which will be joined by Denmark, the United States of America, and Mexico.

The nine-day full of excitement and badminton festivities at the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals 2024 will end on May 5. - BERNAMA

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