Wong Choong Hann will be leading Malaysia into his first major team tournament since he took over as head coach in January. Malaysia head in to Nanning vulnerable on a few fronts, but Wong is hoping his team can pull off a surprise or two. The former World Championships silver medallist speaks to BWF about his focus areas and the team’s preparations:
Malaysia is in Group 1D with China and India. What are your thoughts on your team’s prospects?
We’re with China and India and it’s a tough group. But then we’ll try to give a good fight to China and we’ll do try our very best against India.
Considering that China have such a strong team, realistically speaking, you will be hoping for an upset of India?
I think overall, in men’s singles, we’re still looking at the possible involvement of Chong Wei. Otherwise, looking at India’s men’s singles depth, we’re definitely the underdogs.
In women’s singles also we are the underdogs. If we are to make it, we will have to depend on the doubles. Women’s doubles is 50-50; perhaps we have a slight edge in men’s doubles and maybe in mixed doubles. But this is a very slight edge; they do have a good pair (Pranaav Chopra/Sikki Reddy); I saw them play very well these last two weeks (Malaysia and Singapore). We will be wary of that as well.
The Sudirman Cup is your first big tournament since you took charge of the team some four months ago. Has training been focussed on the Sudirman Cup?
Of course we’d like to build up every department. The Sudirman Cup is one of our check points on the road to Tokyo 2020. We will look forward to getting our progress for the first six months and we hope our players can perform up to their standard and beyond, and if they can spring a surprise on the better players, I think that will show our development.
Overall, what has been the main focus of your approach in what you’ve been trying to instil in the team?
We’ve been working very hard with the coaches and players and management team, that we want to instil a more proactive and positive mentality towards training and towards problem-solving skills and towards better self-esteem and confidence while facing opponents during tournaments. Those are some of the fundamental issues, the mindset of players, and from there we move forward to identifying the individual problems during games, be it technical or tactical.
We have a good support team for strength and conditioning. From there will do some fine-tuning and improvising, in terms of efficiencies.
Some of your young players have done well recently. Chow Mei Kuan and Lee Meng Yean were runners-up at the India Open and Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik were in the All England final. Are these encouraging signs?
So far… they have been doing good, progressing well, I’d say. But we’re still behind compared to the top teams, like Japan, China or even Indonesia. So we’re looking forward to our players being among the best, so our players can beat whoever is across the net. That would be our ultimate goal. We’re working together to achieve that.
We are open to this option. It’s just that we have some time before we make the final submission of team names. We’re still monitoring the progress of our own players, on how they perform in the coming few tournaments. After that we’ll have a clearer picture on who is in best form lately.
You’ve played in high-pressure team tournaments. What is the one key message from your experience that you’ll want to convey to your players?
I always believe that even though badminton is an individual sport, team spirit and self-belief are important. We are not just carrying our own hopes, but also the hopes and support and love from the country, the people of Malaysia. They love the sport so much, so we should always dare to carry this responsibility on our shoulders. We go in with all the support from them and believe that we can turn the tables on all the other strong players.