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ARKIB : 08/01/2004

Chong Wei eyeing his second national title

KUALA LUMPUR Jan 7 - Defending champion Lee Chong Wei is expected to easily retain his title with the absence of the country's top men's singles player in the National Grand Prix (GP) finals at the Negeri Sembilan Chinese Recreation Hall (NSCRC) in Seremban, starting Thursday.

Known as the country's most improved men's singles player for 2003, the 21-year-old Chong Wei will head the list of 16 qualifiers but his senior, Lee Tsuen Seng, and former national players Sairul Amar Ayob and Ismail Saman have the potential to spoil his dream.

Chong Wei, the top seed for the tournament, will have to square-off with his team mate, either Bahrain Satellite champion Kuan Beng Hong or India Satellite champion Yeoh Kay Bin.

After winning his first national title at the Kuala Lumpur Open last December, Chong Wei is expected to add the GP title in his career after snatching the Luster Open title in Sungai Petani, Kedah last November.

However, the Malaysia Open runner-up last July, who is hunting for a place in the Thomas Cup team and the Athens Olympics this August, is expected to easily overcome all his rivals, especially since his top three seniors are not around.

National number one Wong Choong Hann and the Hashim brothers failed to make the cut for the GP finals, thus leaving Tsuen Seng alone to prove his prowess.

The three top shuttlers skipped the two legs held in Selangor in April and in Kuala Lumpur in mid-December because of their involvement in various international competitions. Thus, they failed to pick up any ranking points to qualify for the finals.

However, national coach Misbun Sidek is not worried about the absence of his three achormen in the GP finals.

"The local GP finals is a stage for the national back-up shuttlers to prove who's the best among them. I feel that Choong Hann, Hafiz and Roslin are already in their own class, a few steps ahead of their juniors.

"Furthermore, I want them to concentrate on the international tournaments, sanctioned by the International Badminton Federation (IBF) to qualify for the Olympics," he said.

In the men's doubles, second seeds Koo Kien Keat-Gan Teik Chai received good news following the withdrawal of the veteran pair of Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah.

However, Kien Keat-Teik Chai may have to square off with the Vietnam SEA Games silver medallists Chew Choon Eng-Chang Kim Wai before grabbing their first national title.

The pair's best showing was winning the Luster Open title in Sungai Petani.

SEA Games gold medallist Wong Mew Choo is expected to continue her winning streak in the women's singles event without a challenge from her team mate.

The only challenge will come from the second seeded Woon Sze Mei, whom she beat during the Kuala Lumpur Open finals, and from her sister, Wong Miew Kheng.

The country's top women's pair of Chin Eei Hui-Wong Pei Tty will start as favourites to snatch the women's doubles title.

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