PETALING JAYA: Boosted by the prospect of participating in the Myanmar SEA Games, national backup shuttler Iskandar Zulkarnian Zainuddin rallied from a slow start to check into the second round of the Korean Open GP Gold in Jeonju City on Tuesday.
World No. 65 Iskandar, who was given the nod ahead of an underperforming Liew Daren for the SEA Games, was not at his best as he was taken the full distance by Asian Junior runner-up Jeon Hyuk-jin of South Korea before winning 22-20, 17-21, 21-18.
The lanky shuttler, who himself was an Asian Junior runner-up in 2009, will surely need to step up his game if he is to shoulder Malaysia’s medal hopes in Myanmar alongside world No. 17 Chong Wei Feng.
Iskandar, who reached the semi-finals of the Malaysian Open GP Gold in May, will next face Thailand’s Parinyawat Thongnuam in the second round.
And singles coach Hendrawan believes that Iskandar will only get better from here.
“It was his first match after a long time and he was unable to bring out his best game,” said Hendrawan.
“His Korean opponent was very good and they are all playing well on their home ground. We just have to focus on the matches one at a time.
“But I’m confident that he will do better from the second round onwards and I’m definitely hoping to see some improvement.”
Besides Iskandar, Loh Wei Sheng also cleared the first round after beating Holland’s Erik Meijs 21-17, 21-13.
Former world junior champion Zulfadli Zulkiffli also got off to a winning start by beating Korean shuttler Yoon Joo-young 21-12, 21-17.
The sixth seed will face another Korean in the second round - Han Ki-hoon, who defeated former national player Kuan Beng Hong 22-20, 21-9.
But third seed Mohd Arif Abdul Latif who left the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) in August, proved that his game is on a downward spiral after a surprise first round defeat.
Arif failed to press the advantage despite winning the first game and lost 21-18, 18-21, 23-25 to unknown Ha Young-woong of South Korea.
Another former international - Mohd Hafiz Hashim, was also a first round casualty, losing to Kim Dong-ryung 21-18, 15-21, 17-21.