Malaysia’s campaign in the first round of the US$1 million Axiata Cup almost turned into a nightmarish encounter as they clawed back to level 2-2 against a rejuvenated Thailand at the DBL Arena today.
After defeating Philippines 4-0 in their opening match on Thursday, Malaysia’s campaign encountered a hiccup against Thailand - first in the women’s singles between Tee Jing Yi and Ratchanok Intanon, and then in the men’s singles.
The 18-year-old Ratchanok, who reached the finals of the All-England recently, won 21-17, 22-20 to give Thailand the much-needed start. It was Jing Yi’s second defeat in the hands of Ratchanok, having also lost in the Japan Open last year to the Thai in straight sets of 11-21, 10-21.
And just when everyone thought that Liew Daren would turn Malaysia’s fortunes around in the men’s singles, which was the second match of the night, against All-England semi-finalist Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, it was just not to be.
Tanongsak, currently ranked World No 24, surprised himself and even his teammates, by carving a 21-16, 21-17 victory over the Malaysian who is ranked World No 14, thus dashing Malaysia’s hopes of a fight back to level the score.
It was now left to the mixed-doubles pair of Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying to do damage control but the Malaysians, ranked World No 5, were left reeling to a 20-22 defeat in the first game but bounced back to win the second 21-14 and third 21-14.
Thailand’s domination, however, ended when the men’s doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong pulled off a 21-13 win over Boonsak Ponsana-Songphon Anugritayawon in the first game and followed up with a 21-14 victory in the second, as the Malaysia-Thailand tie ended in a 2-2 draw, much to the relief in the Malaysian camp.
Malaysia’s singles head Coach Rashid Sidek said: “It isn’t that Daren fared badly but Tanongsak was at his element with net play. Daren gave it all his best but he simply lost to a better player.”
Host Indonesia had earlier trounced Singapore 4-0 to keep a date with Malaysia tomorrow in what is expected to be a battle of survival for the Malaysians before taking on the All-Star Europe on Sunday.
Sony Dwi Kuncoro withdrew from the Surabaya-leg of the tournament on medical ground, Mohammad Ahsan excused himself as he is getting married this weekend, and this would seem to be the least of their problems.
“More than half the squad registered for this championship are severely jetlagged,” Indonesian Badminton Association spokesman Bambang Roedyanto, said. “Those who were able took to the courts in their opening tie against Vietnam yesterday, and today against Singapore.”
Hendra Setiawan, Muhammad Ahsan, Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka, Tontowi Ahmad, Liliyana Natsir, Lindaweni Fanetri were among Indonesia’s national squad players scheduled to return earlier this week after their Europe assignments. However, flight delays sent their schedules haywire forcing them to only arrive in Surabaya late yesterday morning.
Acknowledging the Malaysian players also participated in Europe assignments, Bambang said the Malaysian players returned on Tuesday, and world rankings don’t matter when both teams meet as “It’s all about who’s in form on match day, and not the formbooks.”
Elsewhere, All-Star Asia defeated Philippines 4-0, and this restored their confidence in table rankings following Thursday’s opening match 1-3 defeat to Thailand, while All-Star Europe clawed back to beat Vietnam 3-1 after Scot Evans’ 17-21, 21-12, 19-21 defeat to Nguyen Hoang Nam in the opening men’s single match.
RESULTS: Malaysia 2 Thailand 2: Women’s Singles: Tee Jing Yi lost to Ratchanok Intanon 17-21, 20-22; Men’s Singles: Liew Daren lost to Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 16-21, 17-21; Mixed Doubles: Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying bt Sudket Prapakamol-Saralee Thoungthongkam 20-22, 21-14, 21-14; Men’s Doubles: Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong bt Boonsak Ponsana- Songphon Anugritayawon 21-13, 21-14.
OTHER RESULTS: Indonesia bt Singapore 4-0; All-Star Asia bt Philippines 4-0; All-Star Europe bt Vietnam 3-1.