KUALA LUMPUR: Bring on South Korea and Indonesia!
BA of Malaysia (BAM) doubles coaching director Rexy Mainaky declared that his charges are ready to bulldoze their way to at least the semi-finals of the men's team event at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
As it turns out, unseeded Malaysia face a challenging path. They must overcome both South Korea and Indonesia, three-time and five-time winners respectively, to clinch at least a bronze.
Rexy acknowledged that fans anticipate a better performance this time, especially after a subdued exit at the hands of eventual bronze medallists, Japan, in the round of 16 in Jakarta five years ago.
"It's certainly not the draw we hoped for, but it is what it is. Being an unseeded team, we braced for a tough draw," said Rexy.
"It so happened that Malaysia, Korea, and Indonesia got grouped together in the upper quarter, while India will surely progress to the semi-finals (having received an opening-round bye and set to face Nepal or Mongolia in the quarter-finals).
"Now that the draw is finalised, our focus shifts to mentally preparing our players for the impending challenges. If a team aspire to become champions, they must be ready to face and overcome any opponents.
"Our immediate goal is to advance from where we left off in our previous Games and, if possible, to march forward as far as we can. For now, our attention is on navigating the first two rounds, starting with our first tie against the Koreans."
Malaysia, boasting players like world No. 16 Lee Zii Jia, No. 19 Ng Tze Yong and No. 40 Leong Jun Hao in their singles lineup, appear to have a good chance against South Korea.
The Koreans will likely field world No. 47 Jeon Hyeok Jin, No. 119 Lee Yun Gyu, and No. 163 Cho Geon Yeop for the singles.
Zii Jia has defeated Hyeok Jin on two occasions, the most recent being during the Sudirman Cup semi-finals in May.
While Tze Yong and Yun Gyu haven't clashed before, Jun Hao stands as a reliable contender, especially if the tie extends to the decisive third singles. Jun Hao overcame Geon Yeop at the Indonesia Masters quarter-finals last year.
South Korea, spearheaded by current world champions Kang Min Hyuk-Seo Seung Jae, recognise the imperative of clinching both doubles points for a fighting chance.
While Malaysia are expected to stick with their regular pairings of world No. 4 Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and No. 9 Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi, the Koreans might opt for an unexpected pairing, leveraging the versatility of their doubles players.
Choi Sol Gyu, Kim Won Ho, Na Sung Seung, Jin Yong are the other Korean doubles players.
Aaron-Wooi Yik are no strangers to the potential threat a Korean pairing poses.
In the Sudirman Cup semi-finals, they lost to Korea's Sung Seung-Won Ho.
Yew Sin-Ee Yi have found it tough against world No. 15 Sol Gyu-Won Ho, losing three of their four clashes, including the recent one in the last eight of the Singapore Open.