BIRMINGHAM: Former world junior champion Zulfadli Zulkiffli may have fallen behind the likes of Japan’s Kento Momota and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, but he’s not giving up just yet.
All three competed in the World Junior Championships in 2011 and Zulfadli topped the class by winning the boys’ singles title. Today, the other two are way ahead of Zulfadli.
Momota is now ranked No. 15 in the world while Axelsen is No. 26. Zulfadli, on the other hand, is lagging behind at No. 56.
It was the same at the All-England. Momota reached the quarter-finals before bowing out to world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei. As for Axelsen, he gave China’s Chen Long a run for his money before losing 10-21, 21-15, 21-12 in the first round.
Zulfadli was forced to play in the qualifying rounds and failed to secure a place in the tournament proper.
But the Malaysian is confident that he will make his mark in the next two years.
“I am envious of Momota and Viktor but I’m not too worried,” said Zulfadli.
“I believe every player is different ... some just need a bit more time to make the transition to senior stage while others like Momota are a bit faster.
“I think this is probably because they’ve been playing in a lot more tournaments at a younger age. Malaysians only really start competing after 18.
“Since my junior days, I’ve also struggled a little with injuries and that has been the biggest stumbling block in my career.
“But while some of these guys from my time have shot ahead, I don’t think I’m too far behind. I’m confident that I am on the right track to follow in their footsteps too.
“For me right now, ranking is still just a number. It’s more important for me to compete in as many tournaments as I can and learn from that. It’s the next year or two that I’m really aiming for a breakthrough.
“My next tournament is the Malaysian Open GP Gold (March 25-30) although my main target this year is to achieve a win in any tournament,” added Zulfadli.
The Kuala Lumpur-born shuttler does have a point as even China, apart from Chen Long, are struggling to raise the standard of their countless numbers of world junior champions.
It took 2009 world junior champion Tian Houwei four years before making a breakthough by winning the Australian Open last year.