PETALING JAYA: It is hard to discard old habits but coach Rexy Mainaky wants the top doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong to stop the tendency to experiment with their game in what will be a defining year for them.
The duo, who are now ranked number one in the world, have a bright chance to end Malaysia's 12-year medal drought in the Olympics in Beijing in August. Having won seven international titles since they formed a combination in October 2006, Kien Keat-Boon Heong are seen as good bets to win the first Olympic gold medal for Malaysia.
Vying to be the second Malaysian pair to qualify for the Beijing Games are veterans Lee Wan Wah-Choong Tan Fook, who are ranked at number five, and Copenhagen Masters runners-up Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Mohd Zakry Latif, who are in 16th spot.
The other doubles pairs under the charge of Rexy are Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock and Gan Teik Chai-Lin Woon Fui, who are ranked at 19th and 35th respectively.
A country can be represented by two pairs if both are inside the top 16 by the end of April and Rexy said that the Olympics will be the main focus of the year for Malaysian badminton.
“More emphasis will be placed on the preparations for the Olympics and we are looking at two pairs making the cut,” said Rexy.
“Tan Fook-Wan Wah have the better chance to join Kien Keat-Boon Heong as qualifiers but in case of injuries, we still have Fairuzizuan-Zakry.
“Attention will be given on these three pairs to ensure that they get among the top 16.”
All three pairs will feature in six Open tournaments offering ranking points before the Olympics. The season will kick off with the Malaysian Open from Jan 15-20 followed by the Korean Open (Jan 22-27).
The Thomas Cup Asian qualifying rounds will take place in Ho Chi Minh City from Feb 19-24 and the other Opens tournaments ahead of the Olympic qualifying deadline are German Open (Feb 26-March 2), All-England (March 4-9), Swiss Open (March 11-16) and Asian Championships (April 15-20).
Rexy added that he was not worried about the physical conditions of his charges but expressed his hope they would not repeat past mistakes.
“I am more worried about the players' attitude. They can be stubborn at times and do not listen to what we tell them to do,” he said.
“Many times, they play well at the start but tend to vary their game when they get comfortable in the lead. Then they start to panic and don't know how to get out of the situation.
“This happens to all the pairs frequently, especially Kien Keat-Boon Heong.
“They have beaten all the top pairs in the world but they are also starting to lose to the underdogs and this is what I hoped do not happen from now.”
Kien Keat-Boon Heong lost in straight games to Taiwanese Tsai Chia-hsin-Hu Chung-hsien, who are ranked 41st in the world, in the second round of the China Open in November.
They were surprisingly outplayed by the veteran Indonesian-American partnership of Candra Wijaya-Tony Gunawan in the semi-finals of the Hong Kong Open last month.