Monday, November 7, 2011

Zulfadli Zulkifli: World junior champ aims to take over mantle of national No. 1

PETALING JAYA: Zulfadli Zulkifli stood tall in Taipei as tears of joy rolled down his cheeks yesterday. He had, after all, just conquered the world.

The 18-year-old Zulfadli had made history again as the first Malaysian to win the boys’ singles crown at the world junior badminton championships. He had, in April, been the first Malaysian to win the Asian junior crown in Lucknow, India.

And he pulled off the feat in style yesterday, beating the heavy favourite and defending champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark 21-18, 9-21, 21-19 in an enthralling 51-minute contest.

Buoyed by the win, Zulfadli declared that he was on course to take over the mantle of national and world No. 1 from compatriot Lee Chong Wei when he calls it a day.

It was double joy for Malaysia when Nelson Heg Wei Keat-Teo Ee Yi successfully dumped local hopefuls and Asian junior champions Huang Po-jui-Lin Chia-yu 21-17, 21-17 to emerge as the country’s seventh boys’ doubles winners in the tournament’s 19-year history.

The focus was, however, all on Zulfadli as he had pulled off a feat that many - especially from the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) banner - had failed to do before.

The player from professional club KLRC now has the world at his feet. The challenge Zulfadli faces is making that quantum leap to the senior level and take Malaysian badminton to even greater heights.

“The joy was indescribable. The sense of achievement in finally winning the world title was sheer ecstasy,” a jubilant Zulfadli said in a telephone interview from Taipei.

“I just cried after beating Viktor and went to hug my father, Zulkifli, who is also my coach. It was the perfect ending to my last tournament as a junior player. “2011 has been a lucky year for me. If you read it backwards it’s my birthday as I was born on the 11th day of February, which is 02,” he said, letting out a hearty laugh.

It was Zulfadli’s self-belief, perseverance and single-mindedness to succeed that led him to his historic achievement.

“I never doubted my chance against Viktor although he has improved by leaps and bounds,” he said.

The Malaysian got off superbly to an 8-1 lead and managed to hold off a late comeback from Axelsen to win the opener 21-18.

The young Dane, who had blown away former world and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia in the Denmark Open two weeks ago, turned the tide to force a rubber and looked good to defend his crown after taking a 13-9 lead in the decider.

“I simply refused to cave in. I had worked too hard to give it up. And this was my third and last world junior tournament so I wasn’t prepared to lose. I pushed myself and managed to level at 17-17. I knew I had him then and pressed on to take the match,” said Zulfadli.

“The senior game will be challenging but I will be ready for it. I am confident that I can take over from Chong Wei one day.

”I am currently ranked 207th in the world. I want to make it to the top 100 by end of next year.

“I thank everybody who helped me realise my dream, especially my family members who are my number one supporters.

“I must also acknowledge the NSC (National Sports Council), NSI (National Sports Institute), KLBA (KL Badminton Association) and my sponsors KLRC and Forza.

“I am grateful to KLRC for giving me the early exposure in international tournaments as that really helped raise my game,” added Zulfadli, who returns home today to surely a hero’s welcome.

He deserves it.

*Taken from The Star Online

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