WORLD JUNIORS 2011 – The first string

Finishing third last year seemed a step back for the Malaysians at the World Junior Championships, as they were the runners-up in 2009. But this year in Taiwan, helped by […]

Finishing third last year seemed a step back for the Malaysians at the World Championships, as they were the runners-up in 2009. But this year in Taiwan, helped by the Chinese absence, there was no stopping Malaysia’s upcoming gifted generation.

By Elm Vandevorst, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto and Don Hearn (archives)

The last hurdle became Korea, the 2009 absentees and the same team that kept Malaysia out of the final last year in Guadalajara.  On that spring day in Mexico, with the scoreboard level at 2-2, the Korean women’s doubles crushed their Malaysian competitors 21-10, 21-4, putting an end to the latter’s dream of a first ever title.

This year was different.  Where Korea had to replace some key figures in their team such as Kang Ji Wook and Choi Hye In, their rivals could depend on the “experience” from Zulfadli Zulkifli (pictured) and Sonia Cheah. 18-year-old Zulfadli had the chance to put his team in front, facing Lee Hong Je. The Malaysian youngster, who hadn’t lost a match so far, was caught by surprise by his opponent in the first game, going down 17-21.  However, the Korean wasn’t able to finish it off, and Malaysia’s Asian Junior Champion took both the second and third games 21-11, 21-14.

In the girls’ singles, Sonia Cheah had to get the better of 15-year-old Kim Hyo Min (pictured), runner-up in the girls’ doubles at the German Junior, to give her team a comfortable lead.  Cheah had to erase three game points in the first, to finally prevail herself 25-23.  That proved to be a big boost as she then stormed through to victory with an easy 21-12 in the second.

All seemed set for their first ever title, seeing that they could count on their doubles aces Nelson Heg and Teo Ee Yi to obtain the deciding third point. The Malaysian pair was victorious at the Smiling Fish International in neighbouring Thailand earlier this year as well as at the German Junior.  They were heavy favourites against Korea’s new pairing of Choi Sol Kyu and Jun Bong Chan.  Even so, it was the Koreans who scoped away the first game 21-16.  There still were no worries for their adversaries, who booked a historic win, snatching the second and third games with 21-18, 21-12.

It was an impressive victory for the Malaysian delegation who only dropped two matches in the whole tournament, both to Hong Kong.  It needs to be said, however, that record titleholder and defending champions China did not sent a team to the World Juniors this year, held in Taiwan. This will not hold back the almost thirty million inhabitants of Malaysia from celebrating their first Suhandinata Cup.

The young athletes themselves have to start preparing for the individual tournament, which starts already the day after tomorrow.  Besides two Asian finalists, the entire top seven was completed with Asian participants.  Home nation Taiwan – even without the help of 17-year-old French Open semi-finalist Tai Tzu Ying – held off Thailand effortlessly in the contest for the third spot, winning 3-0.  Japan had to settle for fifth place, followed by India and Indonesia.

The Netherlands surprisingly became Europe’s best, ending as No. 8, partly on the strength of their round-robin victory over Denmark.  The Danes were next best among European sides, though, followed by Russia, France and Turkey.

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About Elm Vandevorst