No player has maintained a love affair with a major tournament with as much success as Lee Chong Wei at the Malaysia Open. As he heads into its 60th edition as top seed, the World No.1 looks a good bet to add the Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open to his record 11 titles.
Quite remarkably, except for two occasions, Lee has won the title every year since 2004. It is the kind of sequence that not even his legendary Chinese rival, Lin Dan, can boast of at any event.
Lee said he was looking forward to the Malaysia Open after having skipped the Yonex-Sunrise India Open last week to allow his injured left knee to heal.
“I haven’t recovered 100 percent. I skipped the India Open so I could get rehab. I have been preparing for the Malaysia Open.
“I hope I can play well. I hope the Malaysian team will get support from fans and everybody can enjoy the event in Kuching.”
Lin and Lee are in opposite halves of a draw that opened up the tantalising possibility of another grand title clash between the two great rivals.
But before that, and assuming no early upsets, Lee will run into World and Olympic champion Chen Long (China), winner of the event in 2015, in the semi-finals. Chen might have some tricky tests early on, from the likes of either Wang Tzu Wei (Chinese Taipei), Ng Ka Long (Hong Kong) or compatriot Shi Yuqi.
Man-of-the-moment Viktor Axelsen, who breezed to the India Open title last week, is expected to meet Lin in the semi-finals.
The fan following for Women’s Singles equals, if not betters, that for Men’s Singles – and the draw at the Malaysia Open is indicative of why this is the case. Eleven Superseries winners embellish the draw – led by the inimitable Tai Tzu Ying, who is in the form of her life having won three straight Superseries crowns.
A potential quarter-final with Pusarla V Sindhu – who won a pressure-cooker home final against Spain’s Carolina Marin on Sunday – might feature plenty of fireworks.
The lower half of the draw has the likes of Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, China’s He Bingjiao, India’s Saina Nehwal, Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon and Marin – each a genuine contender for the title.
Olympic silver medallists Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong shoulder most of Malaysia’s hopes in Men’s Doubles; attention will also be on Indonesia’s Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, winners of the year’s first two Superseries.
China’s Mixed Doubles duo Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong have also won both Superseries this year; they face qualifiers Wang Chi-Lin/Lee Chia Hsin (Chinese Taipei) in the opening round.
Top seeds Zheng Siwei/Chen Qingchen will hope to return to their all-conquering ways following disappointments in England and India, but Japan’s Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino in the first round are capable of springing surprises. Malaysian hopes, meanwhile, will be pinned on Olympic silver medallists Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying and Tan Kian Meng/Lai Pei Jing.
In Women’s Doubles, Japan’s Shiho Tanaka and Koharu Yonemoto, who won the biggest title of their career on Sunday at the India Open, were nearly bounced out in their first test since. The Japanese had to save a match point before overcoming Thailand’s Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai, 16-21 21-15 22-20, to enter the second round.
Their compatriots Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi weathered early trouble against India’s Ashwini Ponnappa/Sikki Reddy to prevail 21-19 21-15.
“They’re, basically, very steady – they hardly make any mistakes and their defence is very tight,” said Reddy.
“We combined quite well,” added Ponnappa. “It’s been just a couple of months since we started as a pair. Our performance today was good, in terms of rotation, who’s going for what shot… We’re trying to find the right balance. We’re taking a lot of positives from today’s match.”
Two strong Chinese pairs – Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan and Huang Dongping/Li Yinhui – also made the second round without much trouble.
Men’s Singles: Daren Liew (Malaysia); Takuma Ueda (Japan); Brice Leverdez (France; featured image); Jeon Hyeok Jin (Korea)
Women’s Singles: Mia Mawarti, Susanto Yulia Yosephin (both Indonesia); Lim Yin Fun (Malaysia); Chen Su Yu (Chinese Taipei)
Men’s Doubles: Or Chin Chung/Tang Chun Man (Hong Kong); Tan Boon Heong (Malaysia)/Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia); Liao Kuan Hao/Lu Chia Pin (Chinese Taipei); Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe (Japan)
Women’s Doubles: Lin Xiao Min/Wu Fang Chien (Chinese Taipei); Bao Yixin/Yu Xiaohan (China); Dian Fitriani/Nadya Melati (Indonesia); Joyce Choong/Tee Jing Yi (Malaysia)
Mixed Doubles: Marcus Ellis/Lauren Smith; Ben Lane/Jessica Pugh (both England); Hoo Pang Ron/ Peck Yen Wei (Malaysia); Wang Chi-Lin/Lee Chia Hsin (Chinese Taipei)