LEE Chong Wei drummed out an emphatic message to the sceptics who do not think he is good for Olympic gold: Write him off at your peril.
The world No. 1 was devastating en route to winning his eighth home title at the Maybank Malaysia Open at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
And he declared his hunger for more after defeating Kenichi Tago of Japan 21-6, 21-13 in a lopsided men’s singles final to notch his easiest win yet in the home series.
Chong Wei basked in the glory after the match. He soaked in the wild celebration at the stadium, acknowledged the support of the adoring fans and even took his time to share his joy with his brother’s baby boy.
With yesterday’s feat, the 29-year-old Chong Wei equalled the record of the late great Wong Peng Soon, who had captured the title eight times in 1940, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953. Chong Wei is determined to make the record all his own with a ninth triumph next year.
It was Chong Wei’s second title in a week, marking a brilliant start to the New Year, having won the Korea Open by beating his nemesis Lin Dan of China in Seoul the previous Sunday. Yesterday, Chong Wei showed he was in a different league by extending his unbeaten run over Kenichi for the 11th time in sensational fashion.
The match was a foregone conclusion from the start as Chong Wei, spurred on by the fans, overpowered the tense Kenichi 21-6 in a flash. The second game could have ended just as fast if not for the short delay when Kenichi requested for the uneven white line on the court to be re-taped after taking a 2-1 lead.
The minor problem was quickly fixed and it did nothing to break Chong Wei’s rhythm as the Malaysian continued to dominate, romping home to victory 21-13.
“This is the easiest of all my Malaysia Open wins. I think Kenichi was overwhelmed by the crowd. This is the first time I have seen so many fans at a final here,” said a delighted Chong Wei.
“I’m grateful for their support. It’s great to win my eighth home title and I will definitely go for the ninth as no one has done it before.”
Chong Wei said winning back-to-back titles made for a great Chinese New Year celebration but he would remain cautious of a China backlash as far as his Olympic Games preparation was concerned.
“I ended last season with three semi-final defeats, in the China and Hong Kong Opens and the World Super Series Finals, to my rivals from China. It was towards the end of the year and I was mentally drained.
“I’m happy that I have got my momentum back again,” said Chong Wei.
“I beat Lin Dan at the Korea Open and Chen Long in the Malaysia Open. They are my two main rivals for the Olympics and I am naturally very happy as it is a major confidence boost.
“But I’m sure they will come back stronger. They will still be my main opponents in the battle for gold. I have to stay focused and not let these wins go to my head.”
On the lack of successors coming through, he said: “I haven’t seen any new talents making a mark in the Malaysia Open all these years. I hope more juniors will come through soon.”
Chong Wei said his book Dare to be a Champion, which was sold at the stadium for the first time yesterday, was meant to inspire the youngsters.
“I have written about my humble beginnings. I hope my struggles and challenges will inspire them to go the extra mile.
“I’m living a comfortable life now but it all started in hardship.”
On his next mission, Chong Wei said he would lead the team to the Thomas Cup qualifying tournament in Macau from Feb 13-19.
”We don’t have a strong squad but I hope the younger players – Liew Daren and Mohd Arif Abdul Latif – will make an impact.
“I also hope Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong will regain their confidence and go all out in the qualifiers so we make it to the Finals,” he added.
For now, Chong Wei can spend some quality time with his family to celebrate the Chinese New Year. He deserves it.