With the conclusion of the Bangkok trilogy which saw three back-to-back events held in the span of three weeks, the Malaysian contingent returned home without silverware but with plenty of learnings and lessons for the remainder of the season.
Here's a review of the national team’s performances as a whole following the conclusion of the Yonex and Toyota Thailand Open as well as the 2020 BWF World Tour Finals.
Zii Jia must move on from horrow show
Hopes were high for Lee Zii Jia to perform in Bangkok, especially with the absence of Kento Momota, Chen Long and Shi Yuqi. But the shuttler flattered to deceive with a quarter-final defeat at the Thailand Open 1, and a shock first round exit swiftly followed at the Thai 2.
Despite making the cut to the World Tour Finals, the Malaysian could not get his bearings right and lost all his group matches to Viktor Axelsen, Chou Tien-chen and Anthony Ginting.
While he was below par, so were the rest. World number seven Jonatan Christie also suffered early round exits, while Ginting was below his best despite making the last four at Thai 1. Even Chou failed to live up to his world number two status. Everyone was just returning to competitive action after almost a year, and some adapted faster than others.
Lee posted a cryptic message on his Instagram which read: “Everybody just has different steps in their life that they take to do what they should.” If that means he had to go through this setback to come back a stronger and more determined shuttler, then he is on his way to recovery.
We'll wait to see.
Potential in women’s doubles
Chan Chong Ming may be only a few months into his new role as women’s doubles chief, but he should realise there is plenty of potential based on what he saw in the three events.
World number 14 pair Chow Mei Kuan-Lee Meng Yean took many by surprise by making two semi-finals at Thai 1 & 2. They produced one of the shocks at the latter event by ousting top seeded Indonesians Greysia Polli-Apriyani Rahayu in straight games. In the last four, they put on a determined showing against their South Koreans opponents, but the class of both pairs were telling.
Chan would also be heartened to see the gutsy performance from Pearly Tan-M.Thinaah, who did well to make two last eight outings at the Thailand Open. Their highlight came when they dethroned world number nine pair Chang Ye-na-Kim Hye-rin in a pulsating encounter at Thai 2.
Chan already has plans to work with the pairs, specifically in individual training, strength and speed. With more graft in training, we should expect further pleasant surprises from them.
Men’s doubles still a work in progress
Two national pairs – Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong and Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik – did well to make both Thailand Open finals, but fell to the prowess of the Chinese Taipei force of Lee Yang-Wang Chi-lin. But while they deserve credit for making the Thai final, it was a different story at the World Tour Finals.
Goh-Tan did not make the cut, while Chia-Soh failed to make the knockout rounds after a disappointing straight game loss to Russian pair Vladimir Ivanov-Ivan Sozonov. Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi also spurned a glorious chance when they lost to unfancied English duo Sean Vendy-Ben Lane in the group stage. Bottom line, there is work to be done.
Goh-Tan pushed Lee-Wang, who won all three titles in Bangkok, the hardest. So they will need to build on that. What is clear is they are not over the hill just yet, and can still make the cut to the 2020 Olympics scheduled in July.
National doubles men’s coach Flandy Limpele needs to turn Chia-Soh into a title winning pair though. Six career finals and no titles do not make for good reading, and they must buck up to be considered a fearsome top 10 pair.
The hunt for a world class women’s singles shuttler continues
It looks like Soniia Cheah will not reach the desired heights of becoming a top 10 shuttler on the back of both Thailand Opens. She was several notches below her opponents, and even though Sung Ji-hyun and An Se-young are the supreme South Korean shuttlers, they were not top favourites to win either event and yet they still disposed of the Malaysian with ease.
So, who else do we look to? Thankfully, in S.Kisona and Goh Jin Wei, Malaysia still has two shuttlers brimming with potential. Kisona did well against India’s top shuttlers Saina Nehwal and P.V.Sindhu despite losing in straight games. With more exposure in high level tournaments like this, the reigning SEA Games champions will eventually surpass Soniia in the national ladder.
Goh, once fully fit, is also capable of challenging for top honours. The national body need to get their priorities right on who to prioritize in the national team.
Mixed doubles lacking in mileage
Malaysia touched down in Bangkok with three pairs in the world top 12, but it was an unfancied young pair who made the biggest headline.
Hoo Pang Ron-Cheah Yee See may have been a bundle of nerves at the semis of Thai 2 when they fared against South Korea’s Seo Seung-jae-Chae Yujung, but it was understandable given they were playing their biggest games of their fledgling careers. Prior to that, they had disposed of Indonesia’s seeded pair Hafiz Faizal-Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja to turn heads, as the other national pairs’ fumbled big time.
Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying were big letdowns with two quarter-finals showings at the Thai events, and did not make the season finale cut. So were Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing, who crashed out in the early rounds.
Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai did well to make the semis of the World Tour Finals, but their mental fortitude left much to be desired after a first game loss to Seo-Chae, where they capitulated in the second game.
Potential is there, but not quite up to expectations as a whole.