Shuttler Haikal nearly quit Malaysian badminton team

KUALA LUMPUR: Up-and-coming men's doubles player Haikal Nazri has revealed that he contemplated quitting the national team after finding himself without a partner to compete with for months.

Fortunately, the 21-year-old's perseverance paid off, with his partnership with Choong Hon Jian flourishing in just a short span of five months after they started teaming up last August.

They made three finals and won two of them at the Guwahati Masters Super 100 and Syed Modi International Super 300, ending the year with a bang.

Sitting at a lowly No. 382 in September, they finished the season at No. 52 — the sixth-highest-ranked Malaysian men's doubles pair.

Haikal recalled how he felt lost after his former partner, Nur Izzuddin Rumsani, decided to reunite with Goh Sze Fei in May following a brief five-month split.

Izzuddin was Haikal's second partner in the senior squad. Haikal had previously formed a burgeoning partnership with Wa Arif Junaidi, but they split following a reshuffle early last year.

Hon Jian, too, was affected as he had been playing alongside Sze Fei during the same period. But unlike Haikal, Hon Jian still had the mixed doubles event to focus on.

At first, I was okay with the idea of another partnership reshuffle, but eventually, it started bothering me. I couldn't help but feel envious as I watched my colleagues go out for tournaments and win titles.

"Then came into my thought, when will it be my turn? I did try out with Fazriq (Razif) at the National Championships, but it was just a one-off stint.

"Without a solution, I did think about quitting the national team. But thankfully, I received encouragement from people who cared for me, including my former state team coach.

"Eventually, I decided to hang in there. I was thinking about my family members, who have high hopes for me as a national player, and I was sceptical about my future without badminton, as my SPM results weren't that great either.

"The nightmare finally ended when coach Tan Bin Shen decided to pair me up with Hon Jian (in August). We got off to a turbulent start, but we somehow were able to turn things around, and things started to fall in place eventually."

Haikal-Hon Jian will open their season at the Indonesia Masters Super 500 and Thailand Masters Super 300 later this month.

"We're targeting at least the quarter-finals in these World Tour tournaments. With the participation of more top pairs, the upcoming events will be nothing like what we faced in India last month; obviously, winning them will be a tall order,," said Haikal.

"We ended 2023 on a good note, so hopefully, we can keep the momentum going. We want to break the top 32 as soon as possible before aiming for our annual goal of reaching the top 20."

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