Indonesia eye Badminton Asia Junior Mixed Team title
Three-team Group A - Indonesia, Japan, and Malaysia - is the focus in this year's Badminton Asia Junior Championships which gets underway at the Suzhou Olympics Sports Centre in Suzhou, China on Saturday.
Both, Indonesia and Malaysia won the bronze medal last year in Bintaro, Jakarta after losing in the semi-finals. Japan blanked Malaysia 3-0 while China downed Indonesia 3-1. China went on to the title with a 3-0 win over Japan in the final - their eighth title since it became a mixed team event in 2006.
Indonesia fired the first salvo that they are here with an even chance of laying their hands on the title although host China is once again the hot favorite for the title. This is also the first time that China is playing host to the Asian Junior Championships.
Japan is without their top junior player Naraoka Kodai but the Japanese are quietly confident of achieving their initial target to "qualify for the quarter-finals" before looking beyond the premium Asian Junior meet.
Kodai is away competing in the Russian Open in Vladivostok but head coach Hiroyuki Hasegawa and his assistant Lee Wan Wah do not see the absence of their ace junior as a setback.
Indonesia and Malaysia open their group campaign in the morning. Later in the evening, Malaysia will take to the courts to face Japan.
For the record, Japan will not compete in the individual events which will start on July 24 as they will head back home to compete in the "more important" local junior ranking championships which clash with the Asian meet.
Indonesia believes they have a well-balanced team to "at least reach the final" this year with coach Jeffer Rosobin counting on the singles and the mixed double to deliver the points.
Bobby Setiabudi in the Men's singles and Putri Kusuma Wardani in the Women's singles are also Indonesia's hope in the individual events. Indonesia other singles hope in the Men's singles is Christian Adinata.
Indonesia won the Women's doubles last year through Febriana Dwipuji Kusuma and Ribka Sugiarto. This partnership, however, has been broken up as Sugiarto is overaged for the junior meet and has moved up to the senior team. Kusuma's new partner Amalia Cahaya Pratiwi.
"In fact, there is not much difference between Bobby and Christian. It is a matter of playing the right card against your opponents at the right time," said coach Jeffer Rosobin, adding that it a difficult choice when picking the Men's singles.
"Bobby reached the finals in Thailand (Junior International Challenge) and Indonesia (Grand Prix) while Christian reached the Dutch Open (Junior)."
Wan Wah, a former Malaysian international, said: "We are in a three-team group. So it is best said our initial target is to qualify for the knockout stage...which is within Japan's reach."
Malaysia, twice winners of the team title faces a tricky outing in the group but head coach Kwan Yoke Meng is taking it all in his stride.
"We are in a tough group and we have to play our cards well. If the players can deliver we should make the knockout stage," said Yoke Meng, reminding that Indonesia is the top seed while Japan is seeded sixth in the mixed team championships.
Group B matches will see Thailand play Sri Lanka while Chinese Taipei will take on Hong Kong China. In Group C the Koreans clash with Macau China and India will battle Mongolia.
Host China is up against Nepal in Group D.