PETALING JAYA: Independent men’s singles shuttler Liew Daren will end his impressive season this year with another feather in his cap – he’s the new national No. 1.
The world No. 23 became the top ranked Malaysian in the world rankings after Lee Chong Wei slipped to No. 28 last week.
While it’s understandable that Chong Wei’s continuous drop in the world rankings is due to his prolonged period of inactivity since he was diagnosed with nose cancer in July, due credit should be given to the rejuvenated Daren for climbing up the ladder.
Starting the year in a lowly No. 88, the 2012 French Open champion worked his way up to scale his best-ever ranking position since November 2013, courtesy of several outstanding results – notably winning bronze at the World Championships in Nanjing in August.
“I definitely feel proud but not just because I’m the national No. 1 now,” said the 31-year-old Daren.
“It means a lot because I made it as an independent player, without being backed by resources and support from the national team (Badminton Association of Malaysia).
“It doesn’t really matter whether I’m national No. 1 or No. 2. What matters more is to keep moving up.”
Daren now holds the distinction of becoming only the fourth national No. 1 in the past one decade.
Former internationals Chong Wei Feng and Zulfadli Zulkiffli also enjoyed brief spells at the top in between April to August 2015 under almost similar circumstances when Chong Wei served his doping suspension.
While happy with his progress, Daren could not resist taking a swipe at the BAM for struggling to produce top players in recent years.
“I don’t think it augurs well for the national team for an independent player to be the highest ranked player in the country,” said the former world No. 10 (in 2012).
Daren admits he won’t be able to hold on to the top spot for long unless he is consistent.
A challenging month ahead awaits him as he bids to kick off the 2019 season convincingly at the Malaysian Masters (Jan 15-20) and Indonesian Masters (Jan 22-27).
Daren hopes to emulate his stunning start this year that saw him reach back-to-back semi-finals at the Thailand and Malaysian Masters.
He won’t be able to defend his ranking points in the Thailand meet from Jan 8-13 due to his commitment with Ahmedabad Smash Masters at the ongoing Premier Badminton League in India.
“To maintain my ranking, I need to equal my Malaysian Masters achievement and do well in Indonesia,” said Daren, who faces a tough first round against world No. 9 Tommy Sugiarto whom he has never beaten in all three past encounters.
“I’m playing in India to keep myself sharp and fit in the post season.
“It’s a very competitive and well-organised league, and of course I wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to boost my income as I need funds for my tournament expenditures next season.”
Powered also by last year’s world champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, the Ahmedabad Smash Masters are currently second in the nine-team competition which runs until Jan 10.