KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia suffered a double dampener when top seeds Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin and Yew Hong Kheng-Ow Yao Han fell at the final hurdles in the Asian Junior Championships at Stadium Juara in Bukit Kiara yesterday.
Iskandar, 18, dished out his worst performance in the competition to go down 11-21, 18-21 to a fired-up Tian Houwei of China in just 25 minutes in the boys’ singles final.
If that’s not bad enough, the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) pair of Yao Han-Hong Kheng failed to keep Malaysia’s good record in the boys’ doubles when they lost 15-21, 16-21 to Pratama Angga-Rendy Yohanes Sugiarto of Indonesia.
Iskandar’s defeat, however, was the more painful for Malaysia since the lanky shuttler, who has been in such commanding form throughout the tournament, was just a step away from being the first Malaysian to win the singles title in the Asian junior meet.
Only a few days ago, he had crushed Houwei en route to helping Malaysia nail the mixed team title. Iskandar, the national junior champion, was devastated after failing to come good in his final Asian junior meet.
“My opponent was so fast. He was not the same player that I had beaten the other day. He has changed his game. I just felt so pressured today,” said Iskandar, who was completely at sea in the first game when Houwei hit him with flurry of smashes to take a comfortable 11-5 lead.
Houwei, determined to exact revenge, kept piling on the pressure with his sharp attacking shots for a 21-11 win.
The first game loss failed to spark Iskandar into action. Instead, he made life easy for Houwei in the second game with half-court returns and a toothless attacking play.
“I felt blank ... I was unable to turn my game around to match his pace. He certainly had better control of the game.
“This is my worst ever performance and I feel so disappointed to have let slip of the title after coming so close,” said Iskandar, who later broke down in his father’s arms.
But the lanky lad has vowed to be in better state of mind as he gears up for the World Junior Championships, which will be held in Alor Setar from Oct 23-Nov 1.
“This is a good experience for me. I did not handle the pressure well and I will learn from this and be better in this area in the future. I will be more prepared for the world meet,” he said.
The boys’ doubles final between Yao Han-Hong Kheng and Pratama-Rendy turned out to be an error-strewn game, with Hong Kheng the main culprit.
Malaysia had won four doubles titles in the Asian junior meet through Chan Chong Ming-Jeremy Gan (1997), Chong Ming-Teo Kok Siang (1998), Koo Kien Keat-Ong Soon Hock (2002) and Mak Hee Chun-Teo Kok Siang (2008).
“We did well to take an early lead but we lost our focus when they caught up,” said Hong Kheng.
“Our speciality is our attack but they neutralised it by keeping the shuttle low. It disrupted our rhythm and everything went haywire for us.”
The duo will have to add variety to their game if they harbour hopes of doing well in the World Junior Championships next.
Boys’ singles: Tian Houwei (Chn) bt Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin (Mas) 21-11, 21-18.
Boys’ doubles: Angga Pratama-Rendy Yohanes Sugiarto (Ina) bt Yew Hong Kheng-Ow Yao Han (Mas) 21-15, 21-16.
Girls’ singles: Chen Xiaojia (Chn) bt Tai Tsu-ying (Tpe) 21-13, 21-13.
Girls’ doubles: Xia Huan-Tang Jinhua (Chn) bt Luo Ying-Luo Yu (Chn) 14-21, 21-17, 21-13.
Mixed doubles: Lu Kai-Bao Yixin (Chn) bt Liu Peixuan-Xia Huan (Chn) 21-15, 21-19.