BUKIT JALIL: It's only January but it’s no secret that China are already warming up for the Thomas Cup that will be held in New Delhi in May.
China have an abundance of talented singles shuttlers – Chen Long, Wang Zhengming and Du Pengyu to name a few.
Despite dominating the world’s premier team event since 2004, China’s men’s doubles has always been perceived as a weak link.
But if anything, China, under the stewardship of renowned head coach Li Yongbo, have already put ahead plans to strengthen their choices in the doubles.
Four-time world champion Fu Haifeng has already started partnering the younger Hong Wei, with the pair reaching the final of the Korean Open last week, before losing to Denmark’s Mathias Boe-Carsten Mogensen.
At the Maybank Malaysian Open, the 30-year-old Haifeng who has played in every victorious Thomas Cup team with Cai Yun since 2004, has been paired with mixed doubles specialist Zhang Nan for the first time.
And the pair played like seasoned partners as they demolished third seeds and world No. 4 Kim Ki-jung-Kim Sa-rang of South Korea 21-13, 21-15 in the first round.
“I’ve been playing with a few different partners lately ... it was Hong Wei last week, now I’m with Zhang Nan. Maybe I’ll get another partner for my next tournament,” said Haifeng.
“I think it’s mostly because the coach wants to utilise my experience to lead the younger players, as this is a big year.
“I certainly had a good start with Zhang Nan. We had good understanding on court and were able to combine well.
“Hopefully, we’ll get to play more together because I’m quite comfortable with him as a partner.”
Besides the Haifeng-Zhang Nan pairing, China are also experimenting with Chai Biao-Hong Wei, who toppled Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong in the first round, and made an excellent run to the quarter-finals.
Another old hand – Cai Yun was supposed to partner the younger Liu Cheng, before the latter withdrew.
With China’s current top pair and the reigning All-England champions Liu Xiaolong-Qiu Zihan going through a rough patch, losing in the second round in the Malaysian Open, China are suddenly looking a lot more solid with options in depth.