Iskandar Zulkarnain became only the second Malaysian badminton player to qualify for the World Junior Badminton Championships boys’ singles final after defeating Taiwan’s Hsu Jen-hao 21-17, 7-21, 21-16 in the semi-finals at the Sultan Abdul Halim Indoor Stadium last night.
And Ow Yao Han-Chooi Kah Ming made it a double celebration for the hosts after upsetting Asian junior champions and pre-tournament favourites Angga Pratama-Rendy Sugiarto of Indonesia 13-21, 21-15, 21-18 to move into the boys’ doubles final.
Iskandar will now seek to enter the history books today by becoming the first Malaysian world junior badminton singles champion.
The only other Malaysian to have made it to the final was Yeoh Kay Bin in 1998, when he lost to China’s Zhang Yang in the title-deciding match.
Yesterday, Iskandar exacted sweet revenge against the only player to have beaten him in Alor Setar thus far.
Jen-hao had thrashed an unfit Iskandar, who had come down with food poisoning, 21-13, 21-14 during the team event semi-final last week.
But the Malaysian was in superior form last night, and raced to a 16-10 lead in the opening game. Although the Taiwanese caught up at 16-16, Iskandar managed to close out the game 21-17.
Jen-hao made a convinving start in the second game and went on to win easily at 21-7 as Iskandar was more interested in conserving his energy for the rubber game.
And his strategy worked, as the Malaysian took the decider 21-16 in the 62-minute match to book his place in the final against top seed Tian Houwei of China.
Houwei defeated Tatsuya Watanabe of Japan 22-20, 21-13 in the second semi-final.
“I was not feeling the pressure despite performing badly in the second game as my mind was already planning strategies for the third game.
“Physically, I am still not back to my best after the food poisoning scare. My biggest concern now is to recover for tomorrow’s final against Houwei,” said Iskandar.
Iskandar holds a 1-1 record against Houwei, having lost to the Chinese in the Asian junior boys’ singles final but beat him in the team final of the same meet in July.
But Iskandar is confident that he is wiser and will be able to handle the pressure of featuring in the final better.
“I have learnt from my mistakes from the Asian junior final. I was quite nervous and allowed the final atmosphere to affect me then. I am wiser now and I’ll do my best to upset Houwei.
“I have the whole day (today) to study Houwei’s play and discuss the strategies with my coaches,” added the player.
Yao Han-Kah Ming pulled off a major coup in their 13-21, 21-15, 21-18 victory in the boys’ doubles.
The Malaysians made a slow start and were promptly beaten 13-21 in the first game. They got their act together to win the second game 21-15 and force a decider.
The rubber game was a thriller, with both pairs battling point-for-point before the Malaysians pulled away to win 21-18.
“We had to sacrifice the opening game to force the Indonesians to open up their play and come and attack us.
“Once Yao Han-Kah Ming settled down in the second game, we had the better pair out there,” said national doubles coach Yap Kim Hock.
The Malaysians will come up against another Indonesian pair in the form of Berry Anggriawan-Muhammad Ulinnuha in the final today.
The Indonesians beat Thais Caballes Tin-Nipitphon Phuangphuangpet 21-19, 21-15 in the other semi-final.
Boys’s singles: Tian Houwei (Chn) bt Tatsuya Watanabe (Jpn) 22-20, 21-13; Iskandar Zulkarnain (Mas) bt Hsu Jen Hao (Tpe) 21-17, 7-21, 21-16.
Girls’ singles: Porntip Buranaprasertuk (Tha) bt Chen Xiaojia (Chn) 18-21, 21-18, 21-19; Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) bt Di Suo (Chn) 21-14, 21-18.
Boys’ doubles: Ow Yao Han-Chooi Kah Ming (Mas) bt Angga Pratama-Rendy Sugiarto (Ina) 13-21, 21-15, 21-18; Berry Anggriawan-Muhammad Ulinnuha (Ina) bt Caballes Tin-Nipitphon Phuangphuangpet (Tha) 21-19, 21-15.
Girls’ doubles: Tang Jinhua-Xia Huan (Chn) bt Rodjana Chuthabunditkul-Sapsiree Taerattanachai (Tha) 21-7, 21-15; Suci Rizki Andini-Tiara Rosalia (Ina) bt Poon Lok Yan-Tse Ying Suet (Hkg) 18-21, 21-9, 21-18.
Mixed doubles: Angga Pratama-Destiara Della (Ina) bt Lu Kai-Bao Yixin (Chn) 21-19, 21-18; Maneepong Jongjit-Rodjana Chuthabunditkul (Tha) bt Liu Peixuan-Xia Huan (Chn) 21-19, 21-10.
FINALS SCHEDULE (matches start at 6pm)
Boys’ singles: Tian Houwei (Chn) vs Iskandar Zulkarnain (Mas)
Girls’ singles: Porntip Buranaprasertuk (Tha) vs Ratchanok Intanon (Tha)
Boys’ doubles: Ow Yao Han-Chooi Kah Ming (Mas) vs Berry Anggriawan-Muhammad Ulinnuha (Ina)
Girls’ doubles: Tang Jinhua-Xia Huan (Chn) vs Suci Rizki Andini-Tiara Rosalia (Ina)
Mixed doubles: Angga Pratama-Destiara Della (Ina) vs Maneepong Jongjit-Rodjana Chuthabunditkul (Tha)