Haikal targets lost glory

It has been nine years since Malaysia’s status as the top nation in the boys’ doubles event of the World Junior Championships (WJC) came to an end.

Mohd Haikal Nazri has now vowed to reclaim the lost glory for Malaysia with his partner Wan Arif Wan Junaidi at the tournament – if it gets the go-ahead in Auckland, New Zealand from Sept 28-Oct 11.

Haikal-Arif, who are ranked first in the world junior rankings, and world No. 10 Mohd Fazriq Razif-Justin Hoh, are the nation’s best bet to end a frustrating nine-year drought in the event that was once Malaysia’s forte.

Malaysia is the most successful nation in the boys’ doubles at the world juniors, having produced seven champions since the tournament’s inception in 1992.

The previous winners were Jeremy Gan-Chan Chong Ming (1996), Chong Ming-Teo Kok Seng (1998), Hoon Thien How-Tan Boon Heong (2004), Mak Hee Chun-Teo Kok Siang (2008), Ow Yao Han-Chooi Kah Ming (2009), Yao Han-Yew Hong Kheng (2010) and Nelson Heg Wei Keat-Teo Ee Yi (2011).

Unfortunately, since 2011, no Malaysian pair has gone beyond the quarter-finals.

“I’m aware of Malaysia’s great record in the past, but it has been some time since we last won,” said Haikal, who debuted with a quarter-final outing with Arif in Kazan, Russia last year.

“Arif and I have made it a mission to bring home the title.

“As national players, it is our responsibility to make the country proud and repay the Badminton Association of Malaysia and the coaches.”

Haikal, who aims to end his junior career with a bang, is keeping his fingers crossed that the WJC will be held, despite New Zealand’s border closure “for a long time”.

WJC is the only major event left for the junior shuttlers to salvage as the Asian Junior Championships (AJC), slated for July 11-19 in Suzhou, China, is unlikely to be held.

“Hopefully, things will get better soon. I can’t bear the thought of missing out on the WJC altogether. Becoming Asian and world junior champion has been my ultimate target since the start of this year.

“It’s now or never because we won’t be eligible anymore after this year. The Asian dream is as good as gone.”

Haikal-Arif were in fantastic form earlier this year before the pandemic hit.

The pair managed to reach the final of the Dutch Junior Open in February where they agonisingly lost to Indonesians Muhammad Rayhan Nur Fadillah-Rahmat Hidayat 23-25, 22-24.

Barely a week later at the German Junior Open, they avenged their loss with a come-from-behind 13-21, 21-18, 21-16 over the Indonesians.

Besides the Indonesian pair, Haikal also named Thailand’s Tanadon Punpanich-Sirawit Sothon and Japan’s Shuta Machida-Yudai Nagafuchi as other top rivals at WJC.

“We may have done well in Europe earlier this year, but we’re not resting on our laurels.

“The Chinese have a few good pairs too who couldn’t make it to Europe earlier because of the Covid-19. Anyway, we’re ready to take on anyone,” he said.

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