KUALA LUMPUR: The sweet face of mixed doubles shuttler Lai Pei Jing has brightened up just a few days before the SEA Games in Myanmar.
Pei Jing, who turned 21 in August, now believes that she has a chance to win a medal with her partner Tan Aik Quan.
There are two reasons for her optimism: the absence of two top mixed pairs from Indonesia and her own new-found confidence.
Indonesia’s formidable mixed doubles pairs – reigning world champions Ahmad Tantowi-Lilyana Natsir and siblings Markis Kido-Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth – have confirmed their participation in the BWF World Super Series Finals from Dec 11-15 at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton (KLBA) Stadium in Cheras.
They will not compete in the SEA Games badminton competition from Dec 10-14 in Nayphitaw because it clashes with the lucrative US$500,000 (RM1.6mil) Finals.
Malaysia’s world No. 5 Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying and Thailand’s No. 1 pair Sudket Prapakamol-T. Saralee are also giving the SEA Games a miss this year to play in the Finals.
In the absence of Peng Soon-Liu Ying, Malaysia have named the country’s second and third pairs – Pei Jing-Aik Quan and Ong Jian Guo-Lim Yin Loo – for the regional Games.
Pei Jing said that although the strength in the mixed doubles field had been diluted, she would not underestimate anyone.
“Some of the top names will not be in Myanmar ... and it does open up the race for the mixed doubles title this year. Aik Quan and I must take our chances well,” said Pei Jing.
“Despite the absence of Tantowi-Lilyana and Markis-Pia, Indonesia will still be a strong side in the mixed doubles. They still have two or three good pairs in their ranks and that speaks of the depth of their mixed doubles department.”
Indonesia may send two of these three pairs to the Games – world No. 9 Mohd Rijal-Debby Susanto, world No. 16 Riky Widianto-Puspita Richi Dili and world No. 21 Irfan Abdullah-Weni Anngraini.
“We have a 1-2 record against Irfan-Weni. We have lost to the others. It won’t be easy but Aik Quan and I will try to reach the final,” said Pei Jing.
The other pairs expected to give trouble them are Singapore’s Dany Bawa Chrisnanta-Vanessa Neo, Thailand’s Maneepong Jongjit-Sapsiree Taerattanachai and team-mates Jian Guo-Yin Loo.
Pei Jing said that she has grown more confident heading into her second SEA Games outing.
“I played with Lufti Zaim (Abdul Khalid) in my first SEA Games in Jakarta two years ago. We lost in the first round. It was demoralising,” she said.
“This year, Aik Quan and I have gone through ups and downs. We did quite well in the first part of the year but have struggled after our first World Championships in Guangzhou in August. We lost in the first round.
“Aik Quan and I are the country’s second ranked pair (world No. 23) but we do not want to just make up the numbers. We want to succeed and be a dependable pair for the country.
“After some pep talk, we are really motivated and, hopefully, we’ll be able to see some results ... starting with the Myanmar SEA Games.”
Malaysia last won a gold medal in the mixed doubles through Chew Choon Eng-Chor Hooi Yee at the 1999 SEA Games in Brunei.