ALOR STAR: National number two singles player Mohd Hafiz Hashim and his brother Roslin have withdrawn from the Kedah Open Badminton Championship, which begins here today at the Sultan Abdul Halim Indoor Stadium.

Hafiz, the second seed for the tournament – the first leg in this year’s national circuit – has been rested following an ankle injury suffered in the Japan Open earlier this month.

The withdrawal of the Swiss and Thai Open champion came as a blow to the local badminton fans who had been looking forward to the anticipated clash between Hafiz and reigning national champion and top seed Lee Chong Wei in the final on Sunday.

Hou Kim Tho, the BAM team manager for the Kedah Open, however, felt it was more important that Hafiz should rest.

“It was better for him to give the Kedah Open a miss as it is not worth aggravating the injury at this point of the season.

“Hafiz’s services are needed for the Sudirman Cup challenge in Beijing (May 10-15). And with important tournaments like the Malaysian Open (July) and the World Championship (August) also coming up, he needs to be in good condition,” he said

The exclusion of Hafiz is good news for Wong Choong Hann, who now has a clear path to the final in the bottom half of the draw. Choong Hann has been promoted from 3rd-4th seed to second seed.

The former national number one had expected to face off with Hafiz in the semi-final, but can now expect to breeze through to a final meeting with three-time national champion Chong Wei.

With doubles player Tan Zhao Rong taking up Hafiz’s place in the draw, Choong Hann is expected to come up against Yeoh Kay Bin in the semi-finals.

With Roslin out of the top half of the draw, Chong Wei will be a shoo-in for the final.

In the men’s doubles, Choong Hann, who is partnering Zhao Rong, also stands to gain from the withdrawal of the injured Choong Tan Fook.

The formidable Tan Fook-Chew Choong Eng pair had been expected to take on Choong Hann-Zhao Rong in the quarter-finals.

Former national doubles player Hong Chien Hun will now partner Choon Eng in the tournament.

“Chieng Hun’s partnership with Choon Eng is a stop-gap measure for the Kedah Open only. After the tournament, Choong Hann will partner Choon Eng for the international assignments,” national coach Yap Kim Hock said.

Kim Hock also wants the younger pairs to make full use of the absence of the experienced Tan Fook to show their worth.

“It has been more than three months now since the shake-up for the men’s doubles in both the national and back-up squads.

“The Kedah Open is a good avenue to measure the distance between the young pairs and those who have been in the national squad for quite some time.

“Previously, there was a big gap between the back-up boys and the national players. We will see how the situation is now,” added Kim Hock.

Among the young pairs who are expected to shine in Alor Star are the top seeds Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock, Chan Chong Ming-Koo Kien Keat and Mohd Fairuzizuan-Lin Woon Fui.