By LOGANATH VELLOO
Photos by KAMARUL ARIFFIN
EVERY time the World Badminton Championships come around, hopes will rise and everyone will feel optimistic that a Malaysian will finally be crowned a world champion.
And each time since the inaugural championships in 1977, the dreams will go bust and the nation will be left with more crushed hopes and heartbreak.
|HAFIZ: Hope to spring a surprise|
The closest Malaysia came to ending the world title drought was when Wong Choong Hann fell in the men's singles final in Birmingham in 2003 and Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock went down in the men's doubles final in Glasgow in 1997.
And it will be the same when the latest edition of the world meet gets underway at the Palacio de Deportes in Madrid today.
But this time, national badminton enthusiasts have valid reasons to believe Malaysia will finally hit the jackpot.
And the confidence emanates from the encouraging performances at both the last World Championships in Anaheim and in the run-up to Madrid.
Singles shuttler Lee Chong Wei and doubles pair Chan Chong Ming-Koo Kien Keat made it to the semi-finals in 2005.
“The confidence of the team is much higher compared to last year and we are also better prepared this time around. I have a hunch that we could finally break the jinx this year,” said national chief coach Yap Kim Hock.
“Our decision to come early to Madrid was to allow the players to settle down quickly and we can concentrate on other minor matters to improve their game. I expect a very exciting competition with the players in the thick of action until the very end.”
And much of the nation's hopes will once again rest on the shoulders of Chong Wei, the second Malaysian after Roslin Hashim in 2001 to start as the top seed.
But the 24-year-old will have his work cut out.
Blocking his path to glory will be the Chinese brigade, led by the player Chong Wei displaced at the top of the world rankings – Lin Dan.
The Chinese ace, together with his compatriots Bao Chunlai and two-time world junior champion Chen Jin, will provide the stiffest test to the Malaysian number one.
All the attention on Chong Wei also benefits Mohd Hafiz Hashim. His coach Misbun Sidek said the national number two thrives on being the underdog and will strike when least expected, as proven in his march to the All-England title in 2003.
But a largely indifferent form this year and an unkind draw, which placed him in the same quarter as Lin Dan, could scupper the number eight seed's hopes of creating a miracle.
In the men's doubles, the expectations are high on Chong Ming-Kien Keat to better their 2005 feat. After all, the Commonwealth Games gold medallists are now wiser, communicate better and have gained more experience as a pair since their Anaheim exploits.
It will also be great joy if veterans Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah can reproduce the form which won them the Asian Championships and took them to the final of both the All-England and Hong Kong Open this year.
The third Malaysian pair in the fray, Mohd Fairuzizuan Tazari-Lin Woon Fui are also capable of producing surprises.
The absence of defending champions Tony Gunawan-Howard Bach of the United States and the Indonesian evergreen pair Candra Wijaya-Sigit Budiarto will be an advantage to the Malaysians.
But they still need to negotiate their way past dangerous foes, among them world number one Cai Yun-Fu Haifeng of China, Danish veterans Jens Erikssen-Martin Lungaard Hansen and South Korea's Jung Jae-sung-Lee Yong-dae.
With Wong Mew Choo drawing world number one Zhang Ning of China in the third round, Malaysia's best bet in the women's section are Wong Pei Tty-Chin Eei Hui in the women's doubles.
The duo can match the semi-final target set by coach Cheah Soon Kit if they are able to reproduce the form which brought them the 2005 SEA Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medals.
Football-mad Madrid has not caught the badminton fever. But the cool reception outside the arena will be in strong contrast to the full-blooded contest expected inside it this week.
(source: The Star Online)