What fairy tales will Malaysia’s youthful team weave at the 2021 Thomas Cup?
After a successful Sudirman Cup outing and despite coming unstuck against Japan in the semi-final, Malaysia finished on a high as a semi-finalist. The nation’s number men’s singles shuttler, Lee Zii Jia, clinched his second career victory over world’s number 1 player Kento Momota in the semi-final after suffering a defeat several days earlier in the group stage match.
The men’s team, however, will now funnel their energy and focus onto the 2021 Thomas Cup.
Originally set for 2020, like many sporting events, the biennial international badminton championship was postponed. The 31st edition will span 9 and 17 October 2021 where action will come thick and fast in Denmark.
China is the defending champion – its 10th title – while Indonesia is the most successful nation in the tournament with 13 championships. Founded by Sir George Thomas, the 2021 Thomas Cup will witness 16 competing teams: Denmark, China, Algeria, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Tahiti, Canada, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, England and Thailand.
Drawn into group D, Malaysia will once again face off with Japan, in a repeat of the 2021 Sudirman Cup, as well as Canada. England has pulled out of the tournament citing injuries to 3 of their 4 singles players. Malaysia will star Lee Zii Jia, Olympic bronze medallists Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, and their youthful teammates.
A 5-time champion, Malaysia last emerged with the title in 1992 with an accomplished squad comprising brothers Jalani, Razif, Rahman and Rashid Sidek, Foo Kok Keong, Kwan Yoke Meng, Cheah Soon Kit, Soo Beng Kiang and Wong Ewe Mun. A 9-time runner-up, the previous time Malaysia made it to the final was in 2014, where the squad led by Datuk Lee Chong Wei was beaten by Japan for the latter’s first-ever Thomas Cup title.
Malaysia will play Canada on October 12 at 7pm venue local time and Japan on October 14 at 8.30am venue local time. Only the top two teams will qualify for quarter-finals.
Malaysia 5 – Canada 0: Lee Zii Jia defeated Brian Yang 21-18, 21-13; Cheam June Wei defeated Jason Ho Shue 21-14, 21-14; Ng Tze Yong defeated B.R Sankeerth 21-7, 21-19; Soh Wooi Yik-Izzuddin defeated Phillipe Charron-Maxime Tétreault 21-7, 21-10; Aaron Chia-Goh Sze Fei defeated B.R Sankeerth-Nyl Yakura 21-14, 21-13.
Malaysia 1 – Japan 4: Kento Momota defeated Lee Zii Jia 15-21, 21-12, 23-21; Takuro Hoki-Tugo Kobayashi defeated Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik 21-13, 21-13; Kanta Tsuneyama defeated Cheam June Wei 22-20, 21-13; Akira Koga-Yuta Watanabe defeated Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin 21-10, 21-16; Leong Jun Hao defeated Kenta Nashimoto 21-19; 21-18.
Malaysia advanced to quarter-finals to take on Indonesia on October 15, 1.30pm venue local time.
Malaysia 0 – Indonesia 3: Anthony Sinisuka Ginting defeated Lee Zii Jia 21-15, 21-17; Marcus Fernaldi Gideon-Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo defeated Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik 21-17, 16-21, 21-15; Jonatan Christie defeated Ng Tze Yong 14-21, 21-19, 21-16.
Hero and feature images by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP