Malaysia – The Malaysian men’s team topped Group B and qualified for the semi-finals of the Badminton Asia Squad Championships (BATC) 2022 with a 3-2 victory against a second-string Japanese team.
Malaysia, the 2020 runners-up, will face South Korea in the men’s semi-finals, while defending champions Indonesia will face Singapore.
Malaysia will square off against defending runners-up South Korea in the women’s semi-finals, while winners Japan will face off against Indonesia.
The Thomas and Uber Cup Finals will be held in Bangkok, Thailand in May, and all four semi-finalists have already qualified.
Despite fielding a youthful and generally unranked shuttlers in the Group B match at the Setia City Convention Centre, Japan managed to give a top-notch Malaysian team a fight for their money.
Lee Zii Jia, the national number one and global number seven, got off to a shaky start in the first singles, losing 15-21 to world number 343 Riku Hanato.
After a grueling 56-minute struggle, Zii Jia was able to maintain his cool and rebound back to defeat the 20-year-old Japanese 21-6, 21-15.
Zii Jia attributed his first-game loss to unforced mistakes and a strong draught that made it tough to control the shuttle.
“It was simpler for me to handle (the shuttle) in the second game, and the score difference was also significant.” In the final, my strategy was to remain close until we hit 11 points, and then I felt certain of winning once we switched ends.
“Hanato’s playing style is virtually identical to Kento Momota, it’s impossible to play against him. While this isn’t my finest performance, I am pleased with how I handled the pressure,” he remarked.
Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, the bronze medalist in men’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympics, had no such success, losing 21-23, 16-21 against world number 857 Ayato Endo-Yuta Takei.
The world number seven pair seemed to be on their way to winning the opening game when they led 20-14, but they lost concentration and the enormous lead as the Japanese couple, both 21 years old, mounted a stunning comeback.
Before the pandemic curtailed their tournament travels, Ayato-lone Yuta’s Badminton World Federation (BWF) appearance was a first-round exit at the Akita Masters in August 2019.
“We didn’t underestimate them since we know Japan is a formidable opponent whether they send their A or B squad. After winning the first game, they gained confidence and pace, and we were put under greater pressure,” Aaron said.
From a 1-0 lead, Malaysia fell down 2-1 as second singles shuttler Aidil Sholeh Ali Sadikin lost 21-19, 16-21, 15-21 against Koo Takahashi in a one-hour and 16-minute battle.
The second doubles combination of Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin Mohd Rumsani was then tasked with bringing Malaysia back into contention, but not without a fright in the opening game.
Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin should be commended for overcoming a first-game setback to beat Shuntaro Mezaki-Haruya Nishida. 17-21, 21-17, 21-17, tying the game at 2-2 and setting the scene for a thrilling finish.
And world number 126 Leong Jun Hao did not disappoint, becoming Malaysia’s saviour after defeating Koshiro Moriguchi 21-18, 21-16 to win the match.
Malaysia started their campaign on Wednesday by thumping Singapore, captained by world champion Loh Kean Yew, and Kazakhstan, both by 5-0 scores, to secure a place in the BATC semi-finals. Malaysia finished first in Group B with three points after winning all three games, while Singapore came in second after edging Japan 3-2 and thrashing Kazakhstan 5-0.