Malaysia Tiger's fiery fangs were no match for Indonesia Garuda's predatory claws in Jakarta Friday, losing 2-1 to their arch rival at the lucrative Axiata Cup badminton tournament.
The Malaysian shuttlers were ripped apart by their the host country, with Hafiz Hashim delivering the only point in tournament's first semi-final leg, one of four matches running this weekend. The single point gives Malaysia hope of making a finals appearance, which would be determined after they face off Garudas in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters, Indonesia's manager remarked that the win help maintained the country's reputation as Southeast Asian Games Champion, but pointed out that (Lee) Chong Wei's possible absence on Sunday would “make Indonesia's job easier” to reach the final.
Hafiz saved the day for Malaysia as his calm stance earned him the advantage to beat Indonesian shuttler Sony Dwi Kuncro, who is still recovering from injuries. The former All-England champion demolished Kuncoro, who despite having home ground advantage, lost to Hafiz 13-21, 19-21.
Hafiz's first set saw him dominating the game, forcing the 28-year-old Surabayan to make careless mistakes on court. The 30-year-old Kelantanese clearly played his best in Jakarta, delivering point after point in front of a noisy and boisterous Indonesian crowd.
But, the second set saw Hafiz's cool composure being tested by Kuncoro. Taking the lead at 10-7, Hafiz slipped into a comfortable pace, allowing the Indonesian to close the gap and tied the game at 18-all. From there, the exhausted shuttlers persisted with rallies and tricky net play to win points, but Hafiz put the pressure on Kuncoro and smashed his way to winning the game.
Tiger's coach Rashid Sidek told journalists that Indonesia was too strong, crushing Malaysia's hopes of winning. “We are still happy to have won a point as that gives us hope for the return leg”.
The doubles game saw all four players putting on a powerful performance. Despite losing to the Indonesian pair, Malaysia's Lim Khim-Wah-Goh V Shem played confidently with calculated shots and moves.
The Malaysian duo had met Indonesia's Muhammad Ahsan in the last year's Southeast Asian Games, beating the Ahsan-Bona Septano combination, to win a bronze medal. But in this Axiata Cup face off, the Tigers lost straight sets 21-17, 21-17 to the Indonesia combo Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan.
The twenty-plus year old Malaysians put up a fierce fight, as Khim Wah's left-handed smashes repeatedly caught their opponents by surprise, earning them catch-up points they needed. However, it was not enough to overpower the speedy Indonesians.
Meanwhile, in the first singles game, six time Indonesian Open champion Taufik Hidayat trashed 25-year old Liew Daren in straight sets 21-19, 21-9.
Liew played nervously in the first set, a result of battling against the crowd's favourite. But the singles shuttler did rise to attack mighty Taufik with brilliant net play and strong rallies, forcing the Indonesian to make mistakes.
Looking like what could have been one of the major upsets in the tournament, Liew levelled the score at 11-all, boosting his confidence in front of a home crowd. He put pressure on Taufik with his sharp and calculated shots.
But Liew's rigid moves worked against him as 30-year-old Taufik's famous forehand jump smashes and powerful backhands crushed this young Tiger. Liew's deflated ego proved to be an obstacle in the second game, causing Taufik to win easily.
Malaysia's junior team – the Leopards – will tackle the Indonesia Rajawali team in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday and in Jakarta on Sunday.
The Axiata Cup is the first of its kind badminton tournament, offering a luxurious prize of US$1million, where the winning team will take home US$400,000. Runners-up will pocket US$200,000 while the losing semi-finalist teams will each win US$100,000.
Teams Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines each won US$50,000 despite failing to make it past group stages.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted today he might have made a mistake in giving guarantees for Internet freedom, which has been blamed for empowering and enabling opposition parties to win more seats in the 13th general election. …