The 2003 World Championships men’s singles silver medallist won back-to-back matches on Tuesday to secure a first round match up against Spain’s Pablo Aidan in what is likely to be his final Malaysia Open before retirement.
The 1998 Commonwealth Games champion, who has always been a popular figure among the home crowd, turns 35 on Feb 17, but didn’t look his age when he defeated Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk 21-12, 21-14, and Arif 22-24, 21-17, 21-14, respectively.
On his future, the world No. 43 said: “My goal was to qualify for the Olympics, but I need to be among the top 16 players in the world. It is difficult at this point in time, but there are still a few more tournaments to go before the qualifying period ends in May.
“I’ve played in two Olympics (2004 and 2008) and it will be good to end my career with a third appearance this year.”
On speculation linking him to a return to the Malaysian national team for this year’s Thomas Cup campaign, Choong Hann, admitted he still loves playing for his country, but felt the time is right for the younger generation to take over.
The southpaw, who has claimed five international titles in his career, including the China Open, said the Thomas Cup is a good training ground for the Malaysian juniors and back-up players as the pressure from a team event is completely different than that of individual tournaments.
As such, he reckons players like world junior and Asian champion Zulfadli Zulkifli, Liew Daren and Mohd Arif Abdul Latif will certainly benefit from playing in the Thomas Cup qualifiers next month and even the Thomas Cup Finals in May.
“I have played in seven Thomas Cup campaigns and as much as I love playing for the country, I feel the time is right for the juniors and back-up shuttlers to show just what they are made off,” said Choong Hann, who is still the third highest ranked Malaysia after world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei and former All England champion Hafiz Hashim who is No. 33.
“I came back two years ago as there was a need for me to help out the national team but I don’t think my body can take it anyone,” added Chong Hann.
“Playing in the Thomas Cup will certainly help the back-up players grow up and experience what it is like to play in a team event. Win or lose, they will certain get a lot out of competing in that competition.”
On his future, Choong Hann admitted he has not been in the best form of his career for the last six months, but hopes to comeback stronger after the Chinese New Year break.
Meanwhile, former world junior champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark also reached the main draw, where he will come up against Lin Dan.
The Maybank Malaysia Open presented by Proton is the second of 12 OSIM BWF World Superseries tournaments in the 2012 calendar.
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