Rexy Mainaky’s first gesture on Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik winning Malaysia’s first gold at the BWF World Championships was unusual. BAM’s Director of Doubles Coaching knelt down in gratitude as Chia walked towards him – showing just how much he appreciated the near-perfect execution of strategy that the Malaysian duo had displayed in the final after a bumpy start.
Mainaky, who had never been shy of expressing his feelings about the strengths and shortcomings of his players, talks of how the Malaysians – who had never won a title before this – came good on the big stage.
Excerpts from an interview shortly after the final:
You must be flooded with emotions right now…
The first Malaysians to win the World Championships — that is so amazing. I kept telling them, just play for yourself and your parents, Aaron for his wife and kids, and when you’ve done that, for the country. Everyone will celebrate this. I’m so proud of them.
They’ve never won any title before this, and there was a lot of criticism about their composure in big matches. What was it about their preparation this time that made the difference?
I look back at myself. I have the champion mentality, right? I have been coach for many years. Criticism can actually build and develop mental strength in every player, especially world class players. They only just need to click in their mind and with each other. I kept telling them even during training: ‘Whether you are doing something separately or together, you have to connect. That is the way you can you can deal with all the criticism’. Now they got not only their first title, but the World Championships for Malaysia. I told them to stay humble, and just to enjoy the game.
Was there anything in particular about their game that you’ve been working on?
If we speak of technique, there’s not much to change. It was only about believing they have something (special) and how they can play at the top class level with all their skill and compete with anyone. So that is what I worked on. I tried to reduce their unforced errors, to minimise their negative thoughts. We tried to reduce or minimise the unforced errors. When all these things got connected, the skill came out.
It was about not changing much in their game, but mainly changing the mindset, their self-belief. That was the work we did psychologically and it just worked out.
Coming to the final, what were your instructions to them?
We could see how good Ahsan and Hendra were from the first round. In the first game (of the final) they dominated because they could play to their strengths, the first three shots. They didn’t need to run. So at 12-18 down, Aaron and Soh had nothing to lose; they played the physical style first and then turned up the speed and that was working. That brought back their confidence and we kept telling them that at speed you are better than them. It was about playing long rallies and not to get rushed, if you rush at receiving you will be in trouble.
And to keep the rallies going?
That was working and you could see the effect of the speed they were playing at. When they won the first game they got more confident. They tried to keep fighting point by point until they got the opportunity to get a lead. And that is what made me more confident and that’s why they could dominate the second game.
Did you sense during the week that they had a chance to go all the way?
I was nervous in the semifinal. You could see how intense each point was against the Indians (Rankireddy/Shetty). In the final when they won the first game I could see their body language. The situation was under control.
Since they’ve broken the nightmare of not winning a title and they just won the first one, the big one, I hope it boosts their confidence and they strive to win more.
You’ve achieved a lot as a player and as a coach. Where does this one rank?
I think this is the big one. I have won (Olympic) silver as England coach, I won the (World Championships) silver medal with Koo (Kien Keat) and Tan (Boon Heong) and many Superseries titles. This is the big achievement for me as a coach and also for Malaysia.