By : K.M. Boopathy
LEE Chong Wei’s Japan Open victory has proven that he can beat the best but the World No 4 must start looking at the bigger picture — the Beijing Olympics next year — with every step he takes over the next 11 months.
Chong Wei, at 26, will be in his prime during the Olympics and he should realise that it will be his final shot at gold in the world’s most prestigious sporting event.
Winning a super series event is far easier than striking Olympic gold and Chong Wei must keep this in mind as he prepares for his assault. The Japan Open triumph should motivate Chong Wei as he beat his two bogeymen — world champion Lin Dan of China and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia — but he has to do this on a more regular basis as these are the two players who stand between the Malaysian and Olympic glory.
Chong Wei has beaten Lin Dan and Taufik twice each this year but victories have come in less important tournaments while the duo have won against him in the major events.
Chong Wei surely knows that the setbacks are temporary while quality is permanent and he can expect Lin Dan to come charging back.
Chong Wei’s problem has been his habit of relinquishing a dominating situation easily, which he did last year when he ended Lin Dan's three-year reign as World No 1 only to allow China's elite shuttler to reclaim the position within two months.
His consistency will be tested in the Taiwan Open which begins today but there was a boost of sorts as China have been forced to withdraw all their players from the tournament after failing to obtain visas.
The absence of Lin Dan, Bao Chunlai, Chen Yu and Chen Jin means Chong Wei will have only Taufik and China’s veteran Chen Hong to battle with for the title.
Even then, Taufik is drawn to meet top seed Chen Hong in the quarter-finals and third seed Peter Gade Christensen of Denmark in the last four, while Chong Wei has to deal with lesser established players en route to the final.
Chong Wei should have no problem clearing the preliminary rounds and his first test will be in the last eight where he could either meet Thailand's Boonsak Ponsana or Indonesian Simon Santoso.
A win will set up a quarter-final showdown against fourth seed Sony Dwi Kuncoro, who beat Chong Wei in the World Championships last month.
Chong Wei has never won back-to-back international titles and should he achieve it in Taiwan, it will be a massive boost as he continues his bid to regain the Malaysian public’s confidence and, more importantly, build up confidence for an assault on the Olympic gold next year.