MAY 19 — Can you remember the last time Malaysia won the Thomas Cup? I can. It was 1992. It was the year I did my SPM. That’s a crazy long time ago. Since then it’s really been a string of failures. So much so that when we failed yet again in 2020 (at Aarhus, Denmark), the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) strived very hard to prepare a team for this year’s competition (Bangkok, 2022). And prepare we did. After much hard work by coaches and players, we managed to build a formidable team consisting of one strong singles-Lee Zee Jia, World No 7, All England champion 2021-and three strong doubles, i.e. Aaron Chia & Soh Wooi Yik (World No 6, bronze medallists 2020 Olympics), Ong Yew Sin & Teo Ee Yi (World No 11, 2021 bronze medallists World Championships) and Goh Sze Fei & Nur Izzuddin (World No 14, German Open winner 2022). Read the names above again. That’s a serious squad. The world rankings are important because in the Thomas Cup competition, it is mandatory to field players according to their rankings. Thus, Ong & Teo are not allowed to play above Aaron & Soh, and so on. Anyway, we hoped this would be THE team that would end 30 years of waiting and bring the Thomas Cup back to Negaraku. Yet, on May 12, after Zee Jia had beaten India’s Lakshya Sen for Malaysia’s first point, 3rd doubles Goh & Nur were fielded to face India’s 1st doubles Rankireddy & Shetty (World No 7) and lost in straight sets. Malaysia’s top pair of Aaron & Soh was split up with Aaron pairing with Teo (technically a scratch pair) to face India’s 2nd doubles. Even though Aaron & Teo won their tie, it was not enough. Malaysia was beaten by India with a final tally 2-3. Yet again, our Cup dreams were dashed. Troubles with our doubles? Back home, many were shocked. The interrogation commenced with two questions revolving around our doubles players: Why weren’t our top pair of Aaron & Soh fielded against Rankireddy & Shetty, whom they have never lost to before? Why was Goh & Nur fielded when they have lost five times out of six to Rankireddy & Shetty before? Mind boggling, to say the least. There were calls for heads to roll. Coach Rexy defended his decision saying he had confidence in his players. At the start of May, during the Badminton Asia Championships (Manila), Aaron & Soh were on court against Indonesia’s Riyanto & Rambitan (World No 22). The Tokyo 2020 bronze medallists Aaron & Soh romped to a commanding 18-14 lead in the first set but then fell off the pram and ended up losing 21-23, 10-21. Coach Rexy was furious, blew his top, and blamed it on Soh, saying "It was like a one man show... he was trying to take shots he wasn’t supposed to.” About two weeks later, Malaysia faced Japan. Malaysia had already qualified for the knock-out stages and this was to determine who would top the group. Instead of fielding Aaron & Soh against Japan’s 1st doubles pair of Hoki & Kobayashi (World No 4, 2021 World Championship winner) Coach Rexy fielded Goh & Nur. To everyone’s delight, the Malaysian pair defeated the former World Championship winners in straight sets. After that, the scratch pair of Aaron & Teo defeated the Japanese scratch pair of Watanabe & Koga also in straight sets. With these two wins, Coach Rexy was over the moon. Back home, he was declared a master tactician with his daring gamble of bumping the 3rd ranked Goh & Nur to play first doubles and breaking up Aaron & Soh ("Soh was rested") to form a scratch pair at second doubles. It was Malaysia’s first win over Japan in 12 years. Alas, the formula that worked against Japan did not work against India. Goh & Nur were beaten in straight sets by Rankireddy & Shetty. At 2-2, our 3rd singles player Leong Jun Hao (World No 124) stepped on court to face India’s Prannoy (World No 23, former World Tour Runners-up). It does appear that if Malaysia is ever going to bring home the Thomas Cup again, we've got to sort out our doubles troubles. Hopefully we can do so before my yet-to-be-born grandson takes his SPM!
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