By : K.M. Boopathy
HAFIZ Hashim’s decline in form has thrown the battle to clinch the second spot for the Beijing Olympics wide open and Wong Choong Hann wants to make the most of it.
Hafiz, a mainstay in the top 10 for more than a year, is currently ranked World No 15 and could slip further if his current poor form continues, but Choong Hann, on the other hand, has seen his performance improve since recovering from an achilles tendon operation last November.
Choong Hann, who dropped out of the top 50 after suffering the injury during the Thomas Cup Finals in Tokyo last year, has gradually climbed up the rankings and a runner-up finish in the China Masters in July helped him to break back into the top 20.
Choong Hann, the World No 19, said that it looks like to a two-way tussle between Hafiz and himself but most important for him is to keep improving on his ranking and also regularly beat top 10 players to secure a place in the Olympics for a third consecutive time.
The veteran will be competing in the Japan Open in Tokyo next week where he plays top European player Peter Gade Christensen of Denmark and also faces a tough hurdle in the Taiwan Open on Sept 18-23.
In Taiwan, Choong Hann has an easy opener against local player Liao Sheng Shiun, after which comes a likely meeting with Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana. If he advances, China’s Chen Yu awaits him next, and the winner goes on to meet Malaysian World No 4 Lee Chong Wei in the quarter-finals.
"There is definitely a chance for me to qualify for the Olympics and Hafiz looks like my closest competitor. However, I have to keep improving," said Choong Hann when contacted in Alor Setar yesterday.
"Hoping to improving alone is not enough as I must regularly beat some big names."
"Hafiz will also be pushing hard for a place too and it is going to be an intense race to Beijing," he added.
As for Hafiz, the thought of missing the Olympics alone should be enough to worry him. He missed the boat to the 2004 Athens Oympics just a year after winning the All England.
Hafiz, who faces Chong Wei in the first round of the Japan Open, must overcome second seed Bao Chunlai of China in the third round of the Taiwan Open.
Every result counts for the two players and both will be keeping a weary eye on the other in all competitons they are involved in henceforth.
Choong Hann and Hafiz are also on a collision course on the local front as they are likely to meet each other in the semi-final of the Kedah Open which starts today.
Hafiz beat Choong Hann at the same stage of the National Grand Prix Finals in Kuala Terengganu in January but a reverse can be expected this time.
The winner is likely to face Chong Wei, who has never lost a local tournament since 2003, and looks good to continue that run in Alor Star.