A superb badminton season ended with a great show at the World Tour Finals in China but for Malaysia, there was only a grim reminder – that it will be tough to qualify and even win one medal at next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
In the finale in Guangzhou, Kento Momota of Japan showed the world he is the hot favourite to win his country’s first men’s singles Olympic Games badminton gold after ending the year in swashbuckling fashion – by winning his 11th title on Sunday.
China swept three titles – women’s singles (Chen Yufei), women’s doubles (Chen Qingchen-Jia Yifan) and mixed doubles (Zheng Siwei-Huang Yaqiang) – to show they are back in business.
Indonesia nicked the men’s doubles through Mohd Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan. They can even make it an all-Indonesian final in the Olympics as they have another strong pair, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon-Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, under their wings.
The Japanese women’s singles and doubles players gave a good account of themselves in the Finals too although they did not win this time.
In fact, Japan had two out of the eight qualifiers in every event at the Finals, underlining their dominance in the world stage this year.
For Malaysia, though, it was a quiet affair in the Finals and most of the major Opens this year.
Malaysia’s best hope – world No. 6 mixed doubles pair Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying – lost all their three group matches in Guangzhou, no thanks to Peng Soon’s poor condition.
He has been affected by Bell’s Palsy and is currently seeking treatment. He should be back on his feet but it will be tough for him and Liu Ying to defend the silver they won at the Rio Olympic Games four years ago based on the strong field in mixed doubles..
In the men’s doubles, Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik won only one of their three group matches in the Finals to end their roller-coaster season.
This year, they did well by reaching the All-England final and winning the Philippines SEA Games gold.
Currently, Aaron-Wooi Yik and independent shuttlers Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong are in the running for the Tokyo Olympics as they are in the 11th and 12th spot but it looks like only one pair can make it. Malaysia can have two representatives if both are in the top eight but only one if both are in the top 16.
Lee Zii Jia should qualify in the men’s singles but it’s another story for the women’s singles and doubles. Soniia Cheah, now ranked 24th, has to stay injury-free to make the cut while world No. 15 Lee Meng Yean-Chow Mei Kuan have to remain in the top 16 to make the Tokyo trip.
Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong Hann remained optimistic but said Malaysia would have to step up in the last leg of the qualification next year to ensure they would be represented in every event.
“I believe BAM are on the right track to have qualifiers in the men’s singles, women’s singles and women’s doubles. We just need to do some extra work to improve their position in the rankings,” said Choong Hann.
The qualifying period ends in April next year.
“It will be close in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles. The independent shuttlers (V Shem-Wee Kiong and Peng Soon-Liu Ying) are ranked higher than the BAM players in these two events. We will work on our pairs to make sure they qualify by merit,” he said.
“The season is over and we will do our postmortem. There are areas to improve for sure. We will make our training programmes more efficient. We will push for our players to be more consistent. This is our last leg to qualify for the Olympics.
“The next four months will be tough and challenging as every nation will jostle for the limited places,” he said.