KUALA LUMPUR: After starting the year on a wrong footing, men’s singles back-up shuttler Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin is determined to end the season on a right note in Myanmar.
The 19-year-old Iskandar is hoping to come good in his first major tournament – the SEA Games badminton competition from Dec 10-14 in Naypyitaw – although he will be the one least expected to shine in the biennial Games.
Iskandar, who was involved in a freak motorcycle accident in January that saw him ruled out of competition for 1½-month, will leave for Naypyitaw on Friday with his team-mates. The other men’s singles shuttler is Chong Wei Feng.
Iskandar is happy that he came out of the accident stronger and a more determined player.
“At the start of the year, after the accident, I was quite doubtful about my future as a badminton player. That’s why I cannot believe that I will now be making the trip to my first SEA Games,” said Iskandar.
“Fortunately, I did not allow the injury (to his legs) to slow me down. I must thank my coach (Hendrawan) for his guidance and motivation.”
After the setback, Iskandar made a remarkable comeback to maintain his status as one of the top back-up shuttlers in the country.
He proved it by reaching the semi-finals of the Malaysian Open GP Gold in July and the quarter-finals of the Korean GP Gold in October.
So when Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) decided to drop an under-performing Liew Daren from the SEA Games squad last month, Iskandar became the perfect choice as a replacement.
“Chances like this don’t come very often and I intend to justify my selection to the SEA Games squad. This is the biggest tournament in my career and I hope it will be the start of greater things for me,” said the Universiti Malaya management and sports science student.
Although Iskandar has not beaten all his potential opponents in Myanmar, he said that he is not overawed or intimidated.
Besides Wei Feng, his other main challengers will be World Championships bronze medallist Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam, Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, Indonesia’s Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka and Singapore’s Derek Wong and Ashton Chen.
“I have lost to them all ... except for Tanongsak, I went down fighting in rubber games to the others. Hopefully, I can raise the bar this time and beat some of them and win my first SEA Games medal,” said Iskandar.
Malaysia last won the SEA Games men’s singles gold through Mohd Roslin Hashim at the KL Games in 2001.
Since then, Indonesia have dominated the scene – Sony Dwi Kuncoro won it twice in 2003 and 2005; Taufik Hidayat in 2007; and Simon Santoso in 2009 and 2011.