KUALA LUMPUR: BAM coaching director Wong Choong Hann has heaped praises on the national women's squad and men's singles Cheam June Wei for their outstanding performances at the recent Badminton Asia Team Championships in Manila.
The women's team performed beyond expectations to reach the semi-finals, and thus qualify on merit for the Uber Cup in Aarhus, Denmark in May, while June Wei played some of his best badminton to inspire the men's team to the final.
Heading into the competition, it was a tall order for the women's team who were in the same group as eventual champions, Japan.
But that did not stop them from putting up a brave display, to push the reigning Uber Cup champions to the limit before going down 3-2.
Women's singles, Soniia Cheah and S. Kisona stole the thunder when they upset World No 3 Akane Yamaguchi, and World No 19, Aya Ohori, respectively.
Young women's doubles, Pearly Tan-M.Thinaah also rose to the occasion to give World No 11 Nami Matsuyama-Chiharu Shida a run for their money.
In the absences of China, Hong Kong and India from the competition due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Malaysian women's team booked their place in the last eight.
All they needed was a top four finish to qualify for the Uber Cup, and they did not disappoint when they edged Taiwan 3-1 to make the cut for the first time on merit since the biennial Asian meet's inception in 2016.
“Going into the tournament, we had our expectations for the women's team but they outdid themselves. They should all feel very proud,” Choong Hann said upon arriving at klia2 yesterday.
“It shows their progress and we know that we are slowly closing the gap. We just need to continue working on those areas.
“Reaching the semi-finals, even in the absences of China, Hong Kong and India, is a commendable feat and the players should really start believing in themselves more.”
Penang-born June Wei, making a name for himself in the men's event, was even dubbed as the giant killer.
In the knockout stage, the 23-year-old went from slaying former World No 1, Son Wan Ho of South Korea, Kenta Nishimoto of Japan, to World No 7, Jonatan Christie of Indonesia in the final.
June Wei could not have peaked at a better time, as he was given an ultimatum by BAM at the start of the year to shape up or ship out.
“In the third game of the third match, June Wei was trailing 17-20. At that point, there was really nothing Hendrawan (men's singles coach) and I could do to help him but to just pray. We were already 2-0 behind.
“Somehow, June Wei kept a cool head and with a stroke of luck pulled one back for the team.
“What we can take from this tournament is the ability of our players to remain calm and composed in tensed moments.
“Handling that pressure and making decisions is a crucial part of being a top player.”