Malaysia Masters: A chance for home shuttlers to end title drought

It is now up to the current batch of national players to start making the local courts a fortress once again


AS THE Malaysia Masters badminton tournament enters a new decade at the Axiata Arena from Jan 7-12, the question remains whether the national shuttlers will be able to get back to winning ways in the season opener.

The hosts have been the biggest winners in the tournament since its inaugural edition in 2009, but the titles have dried up since 2017, when Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing won the mixed doubles crown.

Former world No 1, Datuk Lee Chong Wei had frequently made the home crowd happy after having won the title five times, the last during the 2016 edition in Penang, but with the Malaysian ace now retired, it is now up to the current batch of national players to start making the local courts a fortress once again.

Current world No 1 and 2020 Olympics gold hopeful, Kento Momota will be eager to add the Malaysia Masters title to his collection this time around, after suffering a shocking defeat against compatriot Kenta Nishimoto in the first round of the meet last year.

However, after winning 11 titles last year, Momota’s attempt to win his first ever Malaysia Masters men’s singles title will not be an easy one with South Korean Son Wan-ho, Viktor Axelsen (Denmark) and Hong Kong’s Angus Ng, all of whom dominated the last three editions, expected to provide strong competition.

The women’s singles have seen dominance by players from India and Thailand of late, with traditional powerhouse China slowly losing grip in the category, their last title coming from Yao Xue in 2014. All eyes will again be on Thai women ace, Ratchanok Intanon who will be gunning for a hat-trick of titles after her wins in 2018 and 2019.

“Taiwanese ace and world No 1 Tai Tzu Ying has not been lucky thus far in the women’s singles competition but India, with Pusarla V Sindhu (2013 and 2016 champion) and former champion Saina Nehwal (2017) spearheading the squad, they will undoubtedly be one of the hot favourites this time around,” the organisers said in a statement.

Indonesia remains favourites in the men’s doubles after emerging victorious in the last four tournaments, where Marcus Gideon-Kevin Sanjaya claimed the title twice (in 2016 and 2019). Berry Angriawan/Hardianto won in 2017, while Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Adrianto ousted home favourites Goh V Shem (picture; left)/Tan Wee Kiong (right) in the 2018 edition.

Rio Olympics silver medallist V Shem tasted victory in 2013 with his previous partner, Lim Khim Wah, but former men’s doubles ace pair, Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong have been the most successful combination, after having secured the title thrice in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

With the Tokyo Olympics looming, Japanese shuttlers are expected to go all out to make their mark where defending champions, Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota and Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino will again be relied upon to deliver the women’s doubles and mixed doubles respectively.

As for Malaysia, hopes are high for the likes of Lee Zii Jia (men’s singles), Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik and V Shem/Wee Kiong (men’s doubles), Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, Goh Soon Huat/Shevon Jemie Lai and Kian Meng-Pei Jing (mixed doubles) to secure upset wins and cheer the local fans, while Goh Jin Wei (women’s singles), who is making comeback after surgery due to a stomach ailment in October, has not set any target this time around.