Malaysia’s young prodigy Mohd Arif Abdul Latif (pictured) reached his first Grand Prix quarter-final in Macau, where he gained his home country’s pride while Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong have been given a final chance in this Macau Open, which could be the last event as a pair.
By Tarek HAFI. Photos: Badmintonphoto.com (archives) “My best was reaching the last 16 in the Taiwan Open last month,” said Mohd Arif Abdul Latif, but the young player from Malaysia climbed higher to reach a new stage in his career. After creating the upset by defeating the 13th seed, Eric Pang of the Netherlands, in straight games, he kept on his run by sending out Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki.
Arif was bitter at first, when he was told that by playing in the Macau Open he would miss the celebration with his family of the end of the Ramadan, but he quickly found a reason to battle on. He needed three games were to win his ticket to the quarters where the dangerous Alamsyah Yunus of Indonesia awaits him for their first encounter with a slight advantage to the Djarum player.
However, Mohd Arif was predicted to be a world class player since his junior time, where badminton specialists compared him to the Indonesian prodigy Taufik Hidayat when, at 17-years-old, the young Malaysian reached the final of the Asian Junior Championships, portending a possibly great career for the young man.
A great road to stardom was also foreseen for the talented and unpredictable pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong (pictured). Back in 2006, Koo and Tan had the men’s doubles world at their feet as they won their first tournament together before taking gold at the Asian Games, and then 3 of the first four Super Series titles, including the prestigious All England.
Now, however, they have been threatened with separation. After a title famine of almost two years, they have angered Malaysia’s coaching staff and mostly the men’s doubles coach Rexy Mainaky. Therefore, serious problems are about to start for the former world number one, as they are now forced to win the title at this Macau Open, which is free of any other top 20 pairs.
Having won easily their first round match, they will certainly have to face a couple of Asian Junior Champions in this years winners Mak/Teo of Malaysia and then the new Chinese pair, including Liu Xiaoling and 2007 AJC champion Chai Biao, who have come through from the qualifications stage and have removed the 8th seeds Lo/Njoto of Hong Kong. If they win, the Malaysians will be confronted by yet another Chinese combination, He Hanbin and Shen Ye in the semi-final, before a possible final against either the second seed Fang Chieh Min and Lee Sheng Mu or last week’s China Masters finalists Xu Chen and Sun Junjie.
Overall, it has been a good day for all the favourites, most of whom avoided becoming the victims of upsets. The only exception was the eleventh seed Lee Yen Hui Kendrick tumbling out to 2006 World Junior Championship finalist, Tommy Sugiarto.
It was the same in women’s singles, where Thursday’s matches are expected to be tense, with Wong Mew Choo set to meet China’s new weapon Zhu Jingjing (pictured) and the winner will certainly have to go through Yao Jie, a long-time top ten resident.
This year’s Macau Open shows many new young Chinese back-up player in every category who are finally getting the chance to demonstrate their preparedness to replace today’s Chinese world class players. The race already started a few weeks ago, of course, as new women’s doubles dynasty of Cheng Shu and Zhao Yunlei already have two Super Series titles under their belts in just one month back on the tour and they are the clear favourites to win their third consecutive title in Macau, especially given the odd absence of what should be the home favourites, last Sunday’s runners-up Zhang/Zhang of Macau.
Speaking of China Master runners-up, the women’s singles again features the current World Junior Champion Wang Lin, who should be free of major threats until the semi-final. Other Chinese players who had success recently as juniors and are getting a chance to prove themselves on the big stage in Macau include last year’s boys’ singles World Junior Champion Chen Long, who was defeated today by Andrew Smith (pictured), and 2006 WJC winners Ma Jin and Wang Xiaoli, who take on Cheng/Pai of Chinese Taipei in the women’s doubles quarter-finals on Thursday.
The same youthful Chinese pattern was evident in mixed doubles, too, as 19-year-olds Chai/Wang teamed up to remove Chinese Taipei open finalist Fang Chieh Min and new partner Liu Shiu Chih, beating the 8th seeds in straight games to join the new pairing of China Masters finalists Xu Chen and Zhao Yunlei in the second round.
This year’s Macau Open suffered from the withdrawal of several top players but having China’s future stars showing their skills will certainly give this Grand Prix a higher level than many might have expected.