KUALA LUMPUR: In Bahasa Malaysia Alexander the Great is known as Iskandar Zulkarnain.
Unfortunately, unlike the ancient Greek king, Malaysian youngster Iskandar failed to attain greatness in his last Asian Junior Championships, which ended at Stadium Juara on Sunday, after going down in the final to China’s Tian Houwei.
But the disappointment of letting slip an opportunity to be the country’s first Asian junior singles champion is only expected to fuel the fire in Iskandar to conquer the world of badminton one day.
It is rare to see boys cry in public but the 18-year-old Iskandar showed how much the Asian junior title meant to him when he broke down in the arms of his father Zainuddin after the painful defeat on Sunday.
Iskandar has the passion, talent and ambition to make it big, one day.
He should not be to harsh on himself either. He had, after all, beaten Houwei in the final tie against China en route to helping Malaysia win the mixed team title earlier.
Overall, the rise of Iskandar and several other boys’ singles players in the Asian meet shows that Malaysia can bank on the younger generation of players to take over the mantle from world No.1 Lee Chong Wei in the near future.
Iskandar and three others – Mohd Syawal Ismail, Misbun Ramdan Misbun and Zulfadli Zulkifli – made history for Malaysia when they reached the quarter-finals. Three of them – Iskandar, Syawal and Ramdan – went one step better, reaching the last four.
These players, from the Bukit Jalil Sports School programme headed by chief coach Sun Chenhua, showed that they are ready and the onus is on the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to keep the momentum going.
The national body should not repeat the mistakes of 2007.
Then, Mohd Arif Abdul Latif became the first Malaysian to reach the boys’ singles final in the Asian meet. Unfortunately, Arif has sunk into oblivion since breaking into the national back-up team.
BAM should look into strengthening the back-up squad so that the juniors who make the grade will get proper guidance.
Last month, BAM hired former world champion Hendrawan to add depth in the game of the four back-up players – Arif, Tan Chun Seang, Chong Wei Feng and Liew Daren. Hopefully, things will look up for them.
Chenhua, who has been coaching the juniors since 1996, said that with more focus and fewer distractions, Iskandar and company could be the pillars of Malaysia’s men’s singles in the future.
“They have the talent but they must stay focused. They should not despair over the outcome of the Asian junior meet. This is just the beginning for them,” said Chenhua.
“But if these players continue to work hard, I think they can take over from Chong Wei when the time is right.”
Chenhua will now work on getting the players ready for the World Junior Championships, which will be held in Alor Setar from Oct 23-Nov 1.
Malaysia have reached the boys’ singles final of the world meet just once – through Yeoh Kay Bin in 1998.