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ARKIB : 13/01/2004

Second liners ready for international exposure

SEREMBAN Jan 12 - The seniors may have been absent but the back-up shuttlers still managed to steal the limelight at the national Grand Prix finals at the Negeri Sembilan Chinese Recreation Club (NSCRC) here which ended yesterday.

Men's singles players like Lee Chong Wei, Yeoh Kay Bin and Kuan Beng Hong and women's singles star Norsyahliza Baharum, to mention a few, merit serious grooming for future international tournaments.

Having collected a string of titles last season, there is no doubt that national back-up shuttler Chong Wei is ready for the bigger tournaments abroad.

Currently number 20 in the world, he was runner-up in the 2002 Malaysian Open last July, clinched his first title in the Kuala Lumpur Open (December), won the satellite tournament Luster Open (November) and bagged his first national title, the Grand Prix, Sunday.

With the country's number one, Wong Choong Hann, having been the only senior player to have been in form last season and the Hashim brothers, Roslin and Hafiz, appearing to have lost their touch, Chong Wei is waiting to be moved up to the senior department.

National chief coach Misbun Sidek, who is happy with the performance of the back-up shuttlers, said he now had a pool of men's singles players from which to pick for overseas tournaments.

"Previously, we had limited names for the big tournaments. As Choong Hann, Roslin, Hafiz and Lee Tsuen Seng are regulars at international levels, their opponents can predict their games.

"Now with a pool of credible back-up shuttlers, I can choose the best for the overseas tournaments," he said.

However, Misbun said unlike Chong Wei, who had already proved his prowess in the local circuit and was ready to join the national squad, players like Kay Bin, who won the Indian Satellite, and Beng Hong, the Bahrain Satellite champion, still needed time to prove themselves.

"Kay Bin and Beng Hong are doing well in the lower-ranked competitions. They are ready for bigger international exposure.

"But it is important to expose them at the right pace. It is vital to ensure that the youngsters' confidence is not shattered too quickly," he said.

On Tsuen Seng's defeat by Chong Wei in the semi-finals, Misbun said it showed the narrow gap between the senior and the second liners.

"Tsuen Seng's standard is stagnant, not down but it has not improved either.

"So when Chong Wei defeated Tsuen Seng its showed that the junior performance has improved," he added.

Meanwhile, in the women's singles, Norsyahliza gave a hard time to SEA Games gold medallist Wong Mew Choo in the final before the latter won the game.

There is no doubt about Mew Choo's capabilities, but much can be expected from Norsyahliza in the future.

The 17-year-old Bukit Jalil Sports School student seems to have all the qualities to perform better, minus her physical endurance.

In Sunday's final, her best achievement so far, Norsyahliza, who will sit for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination this year, failed to match Mew Choo's energetic game. She forced her to run all over the court.

But Misbun has some advice for her.

"Yes, she has all the qualities of a future badminton queen, like Mew Choo. But to be as good as Mew Choo, she has to make some sacrifices. Concentrate either on badminton or on her studies. It's not a win-win situation," he said.

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