PETALING JAYA: Singles shuttlers Leong Jun Hao (pic) and Ng Tze Yong will finally get to strut their stuff as they are set for a competitive return at the Polish International Challenge from March 25-28.
The duo are among the 12 back-up members being entered by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) for the sixth-tier event which will be held in Gniezno.
It will be the first international tournament in more than a year for all of them following the large-scale disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Several World Tour-level events had since returned in January but players ranked outside the top-100 bracket are finding it hard to make the cut.
Besides world No. 160 Jun Hao and No. 136 Tze Yong, the other men’s singles shuttlers set for Poland are Aidil Sholeh Ali (No. 140) and Lim Chong King (No. 164).
World No. 166 Eoon Qi Xuan will also aim to impress as the sole Malaysian representative in the women’s singles alongside three newly-formed doubles combinations – men’s pairs Chia Wei Jie-Chang Yee Jun and Man Wei Chong-Tee Kai Wun and mixed pair Choong Hon Jian-Toh Ee Wei.
The spotlight will certainly be on the men’s singles department as the BAM are desperate to expedite the development of several youngsters to ease the pressure on world No. 11 Lee Zii Jia, who’s holding the fort on his own after the retirement of Lee Chong Wei.
The likes of Jun Hao and Tze Yong will be relishing their long-awaited opportunity to boost their rankings in Poland.
“I really can’t wait to get cracking. It’s been 13 months since I played in my last tournament (the Asia Team Championships in Manila in February last year), ” said 2017 Asian junior champion Jun Hao, whose career progress was hampered by a series of injuries.
“If possible, I hope to come back with a title. But considering the long absence from international competition, I’ll be aiming for the semi-finals first.
“If I can do that, then I’ll raise the bar higher, ” added the 21-year-old.
In Manila, Jun Hao did well in his third singles role, picking up two wins including beating India’s former Asian Championships bronze medallist H. S. Prannoy, during the group stage.
As for the 20-year-old Tze Yong, he’s also aiming to mark his 15-month absence with a good showing.
Tze Yong showed tremendous improvement by winning the BAM Invitational Championships last August, but he did insist that his credentials will only be genuinely tested in an international event.
“I’m very excited of course because I finally get the chance to see how far I have come after a full year of training, ” said Tze Yong.
“I look forward to doing well in Poland and improving my ranking.
“But I know it’s not going to be easy. You don’t just go to Europe and expect to win easily. I’m going to take it one match at a time.
“I have seen the list of competitors but I only know most of them by name.”
World No. 51 Brian Yang of Canada is expected to be seeded first for the men’s singles when the draw is made tomorrow.