In 40 minutes, Aaron Chia and Sooh Wooi Yik accomplished what no other Malaysian player or pair before them had.
That the men’s doubles duo had achieved something so monumental as a World Championships gold in relatively quick time served as a contrast to the heartbreak that Malaysia had so often suffered in the past.
The most recent of those heartbreaks was during the Lee Chong Wei years, particularly in 2011, when he had two match points, and then in 2013 and 2015. The gold was seemingly in reach, yet turned out to be too far.
Before Chong Wei, of course, there were Jalani Sidek/Razif Sidek (1987), Cheah Soon Kit/Soo Beng Kiang (1993), Cheah Soon Kit/Yap Kim Hock (1997), Wong Choong Hann (2003) and Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong (2010), all of whom fell at the final hurdle.
Malaysian fans watching the final in Tokyo might have anticipated another disappointment, for through the early passage of play, defending champions Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan were in sizzling touch. The Indonesians, unbeaten as a pair in World Championships, drew the Malaysians into their game, with the Malaysians all at sea in the quickfire exchanges.
At 19-12 in the first, the Indonesians had one hand on the gold medal.
With the game nearly lost, the Malaysians changed tactics, opting to keep the rallies going and inviting their opponents to hit through their defence. Given the slightly slower conditions, neither Ahsan nor Setiawan had the firepower to break Chia and Soh’s defence; the Malaysians started whittling down the lead. Soh assumed greater responsibilities in the deep, pounding smash after smash and pressuring the Indonesians’ defence.
The turnaround was dramatic, for the Malaysians grabbed nine of the next 10 points to steal the game; the second was all one-way traffic. The World Championships was won on the first match point – 21-19 21-14. Amazingly, it was their first gold at the world level.
An indication of how much this meant was seen in their coach Rexy Mainaky kneeling as they approached him – was it admiration for how well his boys had executed his tactics?
“I have no words to describe what we’re feeling,” said Chia. “Of course we are so happy to make ourselves proud, to make our country proud, as the first Malaysian world champions.
“The big difference is our focus on court and mindset. We never cared about the points, whether we were leading or trailing. We know they are good on the first three shots, so we tried to change our gameplan, tried to be more patient and use our own strengths.”
“The first Malaysians to win the World Championships — that is so amazing,” their admiring coach Mainaky would say once the enormity of the achievement dawned on him. “I kept telling them, just play for yourself and your parents, Aaron for his wife and kids, and when you’ve done that, this is for the country. Everyone will celebrate this. I’m so proud of them.
“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.”