KUALA LUMPUR: A grim reminder from the past will be the driving force behind Liew Daren’s new determination to come good in the ongoing Thomas Cup qualifying tournament in Macau.
Daren still remembers the painful experience of former international Kuan Beng Hong in the 2006 Thomas Cup.
Then, reserve Beng Hong had to play as the third singles against Denmark in a semi-final tie a day after skipper Wong Choong Hann ruptured his Archilles tendon. Unfortunately nerves got the better of him.
A white-faced Beng Hong fared miserably and Malaysia limped out of the Finals with a 2-3 defeat. The youngster never really recovered from that setback and it eventually took a toll on his badminton career.
However, Daren said, he would not freeze when he plays as the third singles today.
“I have enough experience. I have played in the SEA Games team event and also the Asian Games. I admit I did not play well in the last two major team events but I have learnt a lot. The valuable experience will help me in my first Thomas Cup campaign,” said Daren.
“Except for China, I believe that I stand a chance against other teams like Hong Kong, South Korea and Indonesia. My weak point was my physical fitness and mental preparation but I have worked on these areas. I am ready for the battle.”
The moment of truth has arrived for Daren to prove his worth in the Asian Zone qualifier. The role of third singles may be crucial in this year’s challenge for Malaysia to win one of the four tickets available for the Finals in Wuhan, China, from May 20-27.
Today, he will be fielded when Malaysia open their Group D campaign against Hong Kong. He may also be the favourite pick ahead of reserve Mohd Arif Abdul Latif against South Korea tomorrow.
Yesterday, South Korea were without their seniors – singles shuttler Park Sung-hwan and doubles ace Jung Jae-sung – and it did affect their rhythm as they toiled for almost four hours to beat Hong Kong 5-0.
All the three South Korea’s singles players were pushed to the limit before winning their respective matches despite Hong Kong taking a a risk by resting their second ranked singles Hu Yun.
Top player Lee Hyun-il battled for 46 minutes to subdue Wong Wing Ki 23-21, 22-20. Then Shon Wan-ho prevailed with a 18-21, 21-11, 21-18 win over Chan Yan Kit.
Hong Ji-hoon almost squandered one point before recovering in time for a 21-14, 11-21, 24-22 win over Wei Nan.
The strong showing by Hong Kong’s singles players despite their defeats has made the Malaysian team quite nervous although on paper, Malaysia are the clear favourites to win.
Chong Wei should be wary of Wing Ki who had beaten Lin Dan of China in the Denmark Open last year.
Hong Kong may bring back Hu Yun as the second singles as he has an excellent 2-0 record over Hafiz. In the third singles, Daren has a good record against his probable opponents – either Yan Kit or Wei Nan – but based on their fine form yesterday, it could be tough for the Malaysians.
National doubles chief coach Tan Kim Her said it was important that his doubles players deliver.
“Hong Kong’s singles players fought bravely against the Koreans and they will be out to pile on the same pressure. We will not take our chances lightly. Our men’s doubles players must win,” said Kim Her.
Kim Her said South Korea’s Sung-hwan and Jae-sung’s names were listed for the qualifiers but the duo did not turn up – apparently still injured.
“I would rather not talk about our chances against South Korea right now. We will focus on our opening match against Hong Kong and then, we will work on our plans for the Koreans,” he added.