By : K.M. Boopathy
THE badminton fraternity first witnessed the potential of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong as world beaters in last year’s Japan Open and the Malaysian pair, presently struggling, can get their act together again and bounce back at the same tournament which begins today in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Last year’s Japan Open was a trial event for Kien Keat-Boon Heong before national doubles coach Rexy Mainaky decided to pair them off permanently and the badminton world soon took notice of their immense talent.
Unseeded last year, the pair scalped several big names but eventually fell to the Indonesian-American combination of Candra Wijaya-Tony Gunawan in the final.
They took the international scene by storm after that loss.
Kien Keat-Boon Hong went on to win the Doha Asian Games gold in December and chalked up regular big wins after that.
They went on to clinch the Malaysia Open, All England and the Swiss Open before things went awry.
Kien Keat, 22, and Boon Heong, 20, failed to live up to their new-found supremacy when complacency set in. Their performances started to drop and their breathtaking attacking style lost its sting.
There was a temporary upswing when Kien Keat-Boon Heong won the Philippines in July but this was followed by a disasterous outing in the World Championships at home last month where they were sent packing by unheralded Japanese pair Shuichi Sakamoto-Shintaro Ikeda in the quarter-finals.
Their road to redemption has to start early as the Beijing Olympics is just 11 months away and Kien Keat-Boon Heong should make a strong impact in Japan.
The Kedah Open which ended in Alor Star on Saturday, should have been a good tune-up for Kien Keat-Boon Heong before the tougher battle in Tokyo.
They struggled in the first two rounds in Kedah, including a hard-earned three-game victory over national teammates Gan Teik Chai-Lin Woon Fui in the last eight, before securing a comprehensive two-game victory over in-form veterans Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah in the final.
In Japan, Kien Keat-Boon Heong begin their quest against compatriots Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock before an expected second round clash against Indonesians Luluk Hadiyanto-Alven Yulianto.
If the Malaysian pair advance, the crunch match is expected to be the encounter against compatriots Tan Fook-Wan Wah in the last eight, the winners of which will come up against newly crowned world champions Markis Kido-Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia in the semi-finals, and a possible final showdown against top seeds Fu Haifeng-Cai Yun of China.
Winning the Japan Open will be small consolation for their World Championships disappointment but what is important is their urgency to regain the advantage they enjoyed just five months ago.
This will be important in their quest to win Malaysia’s first Olympics gold in Beijing next year.
Lee Chong Wei, who has proved again that he is peerless on the local scene by winning the Kedah Open, needs a good run in Japan to regain the public’s faith in him after his poor performance in the World Championships.
Chong Wei will continue where he left off in the Kedah Open as he will meet compatriot Hafiz Hashim, whom he beat in the final, for the second time in three days when they meet again in the first round of the Japan Open.
Chong Wei, if his easy straight-games win in Alor Star is anything to go by, should triumph again to set up a second round meeting with Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia who dumped the Malaysian at the same stage of the World Championships.
Anything beyond the semi-finals, where he is tipped to face two-time world champion Lin Dan of China, may not be enough to win back the faith of the Malaysian fans.