Gold drought since 1973
TENNIS is a regular feature in the Sea Games but sadly the gold medal has remained elusive for Malaysia since the 1973 edition.
And it is not about to change in the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games at National Tennis Centre on Aug 21-26.
Five gold medals are at stake, and, as usual, the top contenders are the players from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines with Vietnam and Cambodia being the other favourites.
Radhika Menon and Lim Kheow Suen remain as Malaysia’s only champions in the Sea Games. They achieved it in the women’s doubles event at the 1973 Singapore edition.
Khoo Chin Bee came close on several occasions. She won the women’s singles silver medal in the 1995 Chiang Mai edition, followed by bronze medals in 1997 (Jakarta), 1999 (Brunei) and 2001 (KL).
She and Si Yew Meng also took the mixed doubles bronze medal in the 2003 (Vietnam) edition, which is also Malaysia’s last medal in an individual event at the Sea Games.
Since then, Malaysia have won bronze medals in the men’s and women’s team events.
It is dumbfounding that the men’s and women’s team events will not be contested this time as Malaysia have been successful in winning medals in them.
With only the individual events (men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles) offering medals, Malaysia are in danger of not finishing on the podium in their own backyard.
Jawairiah Noordin and S. Theiviya are seen as Malaysia’s best hope for at least a bronze medal in the women’s doubles.
The pair did well in 2016 by winning the doubles titles in the fifth leg of the Sharm El Sheikh Open and also bagged a bronze medal in the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku, Azerbaijan in May.
However, Jawairiah and Theiviya are not in their best conditions for the Sea Games. Jawairiah is recovering from a right knee injury while Theiviya is battling shoulder and ankle problems.
The Penang-born Jawairiah is regarded as an ‘untouchable’ in women’s tennis in Malaysia, but she has yet to make a lasting impression internationally in the singles event.
Jawairiah has never won an individual medal in the Sea Games.
Her best achievements were the team bronze medals in the 2007 (Korat), 2009 (Vientiane) and 2015 (Singapore) editions.
She also played in the 2011 Palembang edition but failed to finish on the podium.
National coach Muliyadi Jamal hopes for good draws in the Sea Games.
“Of course, Jawairiah and Theviya are our main hope in the women’s doubles. They are ranked fourth among the pairs registered for the Sea Games,” said Muliyadi.
“Both are recovering from injuries. They are 95 per cent ready for the challenge.
“Training is going well. We are now focusing on building the players’ mental strength. They need to play without fear to achieve targets.”
On the newly laid courts at National Tennis Centre, Muliyadi said his players have tried them out.
“The ball travels slightly slower in four of the eight courts that will be used for the Sea Games. The players have adapted to the slow conditions,” Muliyadi added.
Among the top players entered for the Sea Games are Indonesia’s Christopher Rungkat, Thailand’s Ratiwatana siblings, Sanchai and Sonchat, and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, Cambodia’s Kenny Bun, Katharina Lehnert of the Philippines, and Vietnam’s Ly Hoang Nam, the 2015 Wimbledon Juniors boys’ doubles champion.