When they launched the Project ’24 last September, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) set reaching the Thomas Cup final by 2024 as one of their two major goals.
Now, BAM secretary Datuk Kenny Goh has thrown down the gauntlet to the shuttlers to try achieve it sooner.
His optimism comes after the men’s team emerged as runners-up in the just-concluded Asia Team Championships in Manila. Kenny wants the shuttlers to ride on the positive momentum at the Thomas Cup Finals in Aarhus, Denmark from May 16-24.
Sixth-seeded Malaysia made it all the way to the final in Manila before going down 1-3 to Indonesia.
It was a creditable outing although it was achieved in the absence of China and Hong Kong, who could not compete due to travel restriction imposed by the the Philippines government.
The other top competitors – Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, India and Thailand – all came with their strongest squads. Japan, meanwhile, were without their best singles player and world No. 1 Kento Momota and top doubles pairs Hiroyuki Endo-Yuta Watanabe and Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda.
“The Thomas Cup Finals will definitely be a different ball game, it’s going to be much more competitive as everyone will be at their best,” said Kenny.
“But I really hope our boys will be able to pull off a similar feat. In a team competition, you can never say never.
“We saw how our boys did it last week. The fact that they could defeat South Korea (in the quarter-finals) and Japan (in the semi-finals) 3-0 – these results speak volumes.
“That should give them lots of encouragement. Let’s hope they use it as a stepping stone and build on it.
“We are targeting the team to reach final in 2024, but if it could happen sooner. It would be a great boost to the Project ’24.”
Kenny was particularly pleased with the performance of the men’s singles shuttlers. Lee Zii Jia, Cheam June Wei and Leong Jun Hao played a combined 12 matches throughout the week, delivering 10 points for the team.
World No. 72 June Wei, playing as second singles, impressed the most as he downed the likes of Son Wan-ho of South Korea, Kenta Nishimoto of Japan and Jonatan Christie of Indonesia.
“The men’s singles shuttlers are able to handle pressure so well. They seem to be able to contain themselves during the crucial moments and did not succumb to pressure.
“I must admit that June Wei’s performance took me by surprise. When he saved three match points to defeat Jonatan, he was very composed. I have never seen him playing with such confidence.”
Kenny, however, reminded the players and coaches not to get carried away. The defeat to Indonesia in the final, he said, should bring them back to the ground.
“The team have to keep working hard. The gap between our top players and the world top-five opponents was exposed in the final. Zii Jia, Aaron (Chia) and (Soh) Wooi Yik fought well, but they lost the ties,” said Kenny.
“That’s something we really have to work on.”
As for the women’s team, Kenny has given Soniia Cheah and teammates a thumbs up for qualifying for the Uber Cup Finals on merit for only the third time after 2004 and 2008.
“The team’s route may have been eased with the withdrawal of Hong Kong, as well as the favourable draw against Taiwan (in the quarter-finals), but take nothing away from them,” said Kenny.
“To be fair, they did give Japan a really good fight. Malaysia are the only team to have won points from the eventual champions.
“By finishing in the top four, they also surpassed their quarter-final target. We’re happy and proud of them.”