Badminton: Singapore 'can challenge any team' at Asia Team C'ships, says SBA official

World champion Loh Kean Yew and up-and-coming second singles Jason Teh will be part of the team's line-up. PHOTOS: BADMINTONPHOTO, SINGAPORE BADMINTON

SINGAPORE - Buoyed by a set of fine recent results and favourable conditions, Singapore's men's national team are aiming to win the Feb 15-20 Badminton Asia Team Championships in Selangor.

On paper, they have been drawn into a tough Group B alongside hosts Malaysia, powerhouses Japan and Kazakhstan. Group A comprises defending champions Indonesia, India, South Korea and Hong Kong.

But with world champion Loh Kean Yew, up-and-coming second singles Jason Teh, as well as promising doubles pairings Loh Kean Hean and Terry Hee, and Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Andy Kwek in the line-up, the team will fancy their chances of a top-two finish in their group. That would give them a first semi-final appearance.

If they do so, they will also qualify for the prestigious Thomas Cup for only the third time, with their last appearance in the world men's team championships coming in 2014.

Singapore's cause has been aided by big guns China, Chinese Taipei and Thailand withdrawing from the competition due to Covid-19 concerns, while teams like Japan, Indonesia and South Korea are fielding weakened squads.

For example, Japan are missing world No. 2 Kento Momota and their highest-ranked and oldest player is 25-year-old Minoru Koga, who is ranked 129th.

This presents the Republic with a good opportunity to at least beat Kazahkstan, whose highest-ranked player is world No. 216 Dimitriy Panarin, and Japan over a format of three singles and two doubles.

Singapore Badminton Association technical director Martin Andrew said: "Of course, we want to win (the competition). The focus for the players is optimising their performances and gaining more experience. If they perform well, then we can challenge any team in the draw."

Singapore open their campaign at the Setia City Convention Centre on Wednesday (Feb 16) against hosts Malaysia, who are able to call up their big guns.

Despite a public fall-out with the Badminton Association of Malaysia, world No. 7 Lee Zii Jia has been included in the team, which throws up an intriguing first-singles showdown against Penang-born Loh, with the two having been childhood rivals.

Loh had lost his first four senior encounters against Lee, including the 2019 SEA Games men's singles final, but won their last two meetings before claiming the world title last year.

World No. 12 Loh, who trained through Chinese New Year with world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen in Dubai after finishing second at last month's India Open, said: "I have some time to take things slower and try to re-adjust my training momentum. I'm looking forward to playing in this team event because I would like to know if I have improved.

"Zii jia and I will definitely give our all and fight for every point. As always, I'll will try to perform as best as I can."

Singapore then play Japan on Thursday and Kazakhstan on Friday before the semi-finals and finals are played on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Andrew said: "Our preparations are going fine and the players have recovered from recent tournaments. We have players with experience, like Kean Yew, and younger ones who have earned their place in the team which are largely based on our SEA Games selections.

"Malaysia have their strongest players, Japan are without some of their top players, while Kazakhstan have one or two known strong players, so we have an interesting few matches which will challenge us throughout.

"We have the players with the ability to challenge for a place in the semi-final and the Thomas Cup... we will take each match as it happens and do our best."

Due to niggling injuries to the top two singles players Yeo Jia Min and Jaslyn Hooi, and three players having just recovered from Covid-19, Singapore have not sent a team for the women's competition.

Singapore's men's badminton team

Singles: Loh Kean Yew (world No. 12), Jason Teh (102), Joel Koh (274), Lim Ming Hong (unranked). Doubles: Loh Kean Hean and Terry Hee (85), Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Andy Kwek (247), Wesley Koh and Junsuke Kubo (785).

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