27th April
TheStar


PETALING JAYA: With some of the men’s singles players taking up new roles for the first time, national coach Misbun Sidek predicts the emergence of new heroes in the Thomas Cup Finals, which begin on Friday in Japan.

The preliminary rounds will be held at the Sendai Gymnasium and the kockout stages from the quarter-finals will be held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium from May 3-7.

A world men’s team championship involves a total of 12 teams but only five of them have a realistic chance to win the Cup – defending champions China, Malaysia, Denmark, Indonesia and South Korea.

Acknowledging that the new 21-point best-of-three games scoring format had narrowed the standard between the players and teams, national singles coach Misbun picked China’s Chen Jin and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei to play significant roles in their teams’ challenges.

Chen Jin plays an aggressive attacking game that won him two titles this year – the German Open and China Masters. And Misbun sees the Thomas Cup rookie as the leader of a new generation of world-class players.

“This youngster has showed remarkable progress over the last one year and he has done well under the new scoring format. He is skilful and drops accurate shots. Top players will certainly find it difficult to beat him,” said Misbun, before he left with the team for Sendai on Sunday.

“He is the fourth ranked player in the five-member Chinese singles line-up and could be fielded in either the second or third singles match. If a tie goes down the wire, he is a player defending champions China can rely on to clinch it.”

The two-time world junior champion (2002 and 2004) is now ranked ninth in the world.

The other singles players in the Chinese team are world number one Lin Dan, Chen Hong (6th), Bao Chunlai (7th) and Xia Xuanze (34th).

Malaysia have four singles players in their side – Chong Wei, Wong Choong Hann, Mohd Hafiz Hashim and Kuan Beng Hong. Misbun picks world number two Chong Wei to shine in his second appearance in the Finals.

“He is one of the most consistent players. For Malaysia, he will be playing the first singles match for the first time in the series,” said Misbun. “His contribution will be vital and based on his performances in training, I see great confidence in him. This will help him handle the pressure during the Finals.”

Misbun acknowledges that Olympic and world champion Taufik Hidayat is the trump card for Indonesia and he also sees the fourth-ranked player Markus Wijanu having an important role to play in the Finals.

“Markus is about 20 years old. Like his two other teammates – Sony Dwi Kuncoro and Simon Santoso – Markus is a runner. These three players will never give up easily. They run for just about every point,” said Misbun.

“Simon did well to beat Hafiz in the third round of the ABC (Asian Badminton Championships) recently.”

On paper, South Korea appear the weakest of the strong contenders for the Cup. But Misbun said that their two young singles players, Park Sung-hwan and Jang Young-soo, cannot be under-estimated.

“Sung-hwan is ranked ahead of Young-soo at number three. But I would rate Young-soo as the more dangerous player. He is the most skilful Korean player,” said Misbun.

“But with the doubles as the weak link of the Korean this time, I don’t think they can take a crucial tie in a decisive third singles match and either Sung-hwan or Young-soo may not get the chance to show what they are capable of.”

Denmark will have two singles players making their debut – Niels Christian Kaldau and Joachim Persson. But their point-winners will be the usual suspects – Peter Gade-Christensen and Kenneth Jonassen.

In the doubles department, China’s secret weapon is set to be Xie Zhongbo-Guo Zhengdong.

Denmark and Indonesia have three strong pairs and these Finals may see the rise of debutants Mathias Boe-Carsten Morgensen and Markis Kidho-Hendra Setiawan respectively.

Malaysia have a reliable doubles line-up with veteran Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah looking well prepared this time.

For the duo, it could be their last fling to emerge as Thomas Cup champions for Malaysia since they made their debut in the Finals in 1998.

Malaysia last won the Cup in 1992 and were runners-up in 1994, 1998 and 2002. At the last Finals in Jakarta in 2004, Malaysia were eliminated 1-3 by Indonesia in the quarter-finals.