Badminton Life

Interview with Wong Mew Choo

Date: 10/1/2012

Wong Mew Choo born May 1, 1983 is a female badminton singles player from Malaysia. She is known to be one the best women's singles player Malaysia has ever produced. Winning the numerous international titles such as the China Open Super Series, GP Finals Super Series Masters and etc; she reached her highest world ranking of #7 and she manages to stayed at the top 10 for a couple of years. Being one of the contender in the world, she was capable of beating any top player in the world. She's the only Malaysia women's singles player China feared as she had beaten their top players such as Xie Xing Fang, Zhang Ning, Zhu Ling and etc. Mew Choo got her first taste of international success after winning the women's single event at Sea Games 2003; which she gave her instant shot to fame. She entered the tournament as a total underdog, facing fierce competition from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, China born players from Singapore, Thailand and etc.

She is known for her exceptional endurance and stamina, the result of training alongside male players and her hardworking atitude. Without any significant attacking arsenals, she initially built her game based on fitness and defence, with the ability to run a continuous, long rally; sending everything back to tactically superior opponents until a mistake or an attacking opportunity appears. Such tactics have served her well, but put a lot of pressure on her knees and ankles. She has been known to suffer from various long term injuries in her playing career. She retired at the age of 28 years old due to serious injuries which could affect her health. She is now coaching the national juniors at the Bukit Jalil Sports School.

Wong Mew Choo

1. What age did you start playing?

11 years old I started to play badminton. It's all the influence of my sister who is 2 years elder than me and my dad, who is a big fan of badminton. I would just follow them to the badminton court during the weekends. At 12 years old I entered the Selangor state team.

2. Was it your intention to be a professional player from the start?

I just went through normal procedures, being the younger sister I just follow my family especially my elder sister Wong Mew Kheng who is already a state player. At that time when I picked up the sport is all about having fun. Then after that I represented my state and then represented my country and be world number 1.

3. When did you realize you were good enough to be a world beater ?

2003, SEA Games I won the gold medal. 20 years old.

4. How were you noticed at the national level ?

At 16 years old I represented my state, winning a number of national circuit and state open tournaments. I had to beat a lot of senior players like my sister Mew Kheng, Mei Fen and etc. At 18 years old I entered the national squad. I only got noticed at national level, after winning the SEA Games in 2003 at the age of 20 years old. That's when everyone noticed, no one would believe I could do it. Before winning the SEA Games no one would notice me as they only focus on the men's department.

5. Which year was you drafted into the national squad?

16 years old I was drafted in the national junior squad academy, there's no sports school at that time. At 18 years old I was drafted in the national squad.

6. Have you ever considered making a name in doubles?

When I was a junior I played all categories; women's singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles. I even won a few national titles in mixed doubles but I couldn't remember as I was ages ago. Then at around 18 years old, I fully concentrated in singles.

7. Did any of your batch mates made the same grade as you ? If not, what was the reason ?

In girls department, Chin Ee Hui and in men's department, Lee Chong Wei. There are many reasons for those who didn't make it such as long the way they aggravated injuries and they went through surgery and it's hard to make a comeback, another reason is some would realised they couldn't go any further in this sport and decided to give it up. There's many factors sometimes in depends on talent as well and the coaches are not focus on you. We can blame the coaches as well, as the coaches have to take care a lot of players, for example 10 players and they can't put all energy on 10 players. There would not be any results, so they have to focus on the more potential ones. In every group of players there's always one or two the more potential one, but not many though.

8. How many years were you on the scene?

from 16 years old to 28 years. 12 years.

9. On your playing career which was the highlight of your career?

I would say 2007 China Super Series is the best experience, I emerged as champion in the tournament. Starting from the 1st round till the final I had play with all Chinese players. I won Pi Hoyan China born player, Xie Xiafang and players who I didn't beat before like World Champion Zhu Ling and legendary Zhang Ning. At that time, wasn't in good form and my performance in previous was not so good. I just gave everything I had, I played with no pressure. That's probably the main factor of winning the China Open Super Series. Another highlight, would be 2008 GP Finals Super Series, I have to thank coach Misbun Sidek for helping with winning this title. That year I had drop in form, I didn't win any titles the whole year.

10. Which incident would you consider as a low point of your career?

The 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. I won the top seeds in the mixed event, but in the individual event I lost to a double player in the second round, i played really badly. I would say that's the lowest point in my career. In fact, I was the only one in the whole team who returned without a medal. At that time I was really upset, I cried really badly but I gave me the motivation and strive to work harder. I told myself it would not happen again in the next Commonwealth Games which was held in Melbourne 2006. In my point of view, the Commonwealth Game is quite prestigious as it's only held every 4 years. To me the 2002 Commonwealth Games would the saddest moment of career.

11. How would you summarize your career?

Well I would say not too bad and not too good, just moderate. In my point of view, I think it's quite an achievement reaching my highest world ranking of #7 and maintaining the top 10 for a couple years. It's not an easy task. I retired because of multiple injuries. I got these injuries because overloading myself with training and my body got over use. I would train by myself during the night and early morning before training as well. I only entered the national juniors squad at the age of 16, so I had to work extra hard to keep up the others. More over, these players, who are already in the national junior squad, started gym training and proper guidance since the age of 13 years old. At the start, I had no knowledge of sport science, no proper treatment, no supplement. Only this few years, BAM starts to implement these elements. If I wouldn't have these injuries I think I would performed better and have better results.

12. Do you still play? What other sports other than badminton ?

Yes I do still play but less. Not that often, usually after I play with my players due to my injuries, I couldn't walk for few days as it's very painful. I'm planning to train back a little doing a little bit of gym and running just to spar with my players, that's the only way to improve them tremendously. I don't play other sports, just badminton but during my school days I played athletics, long jump, sprinting, volley ball, table tennis and gymnastic at school and state level. There's this one time when I was in primary school, I was selected by talent scout to join the gymnastic school and I had to drop all sports, but I decided to stick with badminton as my dad advised me.

13. What do you think of the new points scoring system?

During the 11 points scoring system it's very high level of competition and it's obvious to see the outcome of the match. Now it's hard to say, other players from other nation can challenge players from China. Now you not can see China players but you also can see players from Japan, India, Russia and etc. With this 21 points scoring system, I noticed European player are keeping up with the Asian players. There are not a handful of European players, but at least you can see a few besides players from China. From the start people might think this scoring system ends very quickly but now as time goes by, players are getting used to it. They know how to play and train to this scoring system. Now games at the high level would last up to an hour or an hour plus. The duration of the game is getting longer, as time goes by.

14. Which player you admire at the start, both at the local and the international scene ?

Susi Susanti and Gong Zhi Chao as both of them has very high quality and accurate shots and very good court coverage. I admire Zhang Ning and she has my full respect. She peaked at the late age, but for her to maintain her form to win her second Olympic title is really spectacular despite of her age. She needs to overcome a lot of factors as there's a lot of younger players catching up behind her and how she recovers after matches. To be honest at that time, I don't think she could defend her Olympic Gold Medal as the year before Olympic she hasn't had much results and less reputable players starting to win her. I'm amazed that she has the ability get back into the game and win the Olympic Gold medal.

15. As a player, what was your strength? Weakness, if any?

My strong point would be my fighting spirit. As for weaknesses I don't have much self confidence in myself even though people say I'm a very good player. I'm always doubting myself and putting unnecessary on myself.

16. Is it important to have a favourite stroke? What was yours then?

It's important to have favourite stroke, it's like a weapon to get points. Doesn't matter what kind style of play. Every player got their style. As for my favourite stroke, it would be defence.

17. Can you name a few international players, current or retired, who you regard as best or famous for a specific technique or an area of skills?

Zhang Ning she has great skills and she plays a very smart game. She's also quite deceptive as well and she has brilliant shots arrangement. Susi Susanti, she's very consistent and steady. Gong Zhi Chao from China, she's not a short player, but she has very high quality skills and great movement around the court. She has explosive movement which gave her the great court coverage. She can win over much taller opponents and she's one of the only short Chinese women singles player.

18. Who do you regard as the all time best player?

In women's singles I would say Zhang Ning. In the men's singles, I would say Lin Dan. It takes decades to have another player like Lin Dan. Taufik Hidayat is truly a gifted player. He's like born to play badminton. The player I respected the most is Peter Gade, it requires a lot of discipline and at this age, it's not easy to maintain at this high level. He has really strong mental strength; moreover he's a very nice person outside the court as well. Chong Wei is a great player as well, even though he didn't win any major titles but it's never easy to maintain the World Number 1 sport for almost 4 years.

19. Who were your coaches during your international days?

Misbun Sidek is the one who helped me to make a break through. Then Li Mao and Wong Tat Meng for a few years who made reached to better heights and then Misbun again. Li Mao and Wong Tat Meng focus more on skills and Misbun is more on speed and fitness.

20. Can you spell out the difference in coaching styles from China, Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia?

China focuses on all training elements. They are very good in analyzing games. Actually these countries is more than less the same, it's all depends on the players. From my point of view, players these days has no mental strength, there's no self initiative in training like coming early doing their own exercises or stayed back perfecting their game.

21. How do you regard the local coaching scene?

I don't know much as I've just started coaching early this year.

22. Do good players make good coaches?

Not really, not necessarily. It's all about the learning process to be a good coach. But you have to reached a certain to level to teach higher level players. It's important for the coach to experienced and know what to do to improve the player.

23. You are coaching at the moment, whats the diffrence?

The first few months I was coaching, it's very mentally tiring now I got used to it. As player it's also mentally and physically tiring but all you think is about yourself. It's very different between being a player and coach.

24. What are the basic requirements to playing good badminton ?

Discipline and attitude is the main requirements. Time management is very important, you must do things suppose to do at that time you have set for it. For example the time you supposed to sleep, you must sleep. If you don't have the proper recovery for the next training session, the risk is very high to get injury. Discipline plays into the part. As for attitude, it's the right attitude in training such as taking self initiative to improve yourself and have self expectation to perform better.

25. You are one of the best women's singles players Malaysia has ever produced, what's your vision in Malaysia badminton?

What I've learnt, I want to give back. I hope I can help to make a Malaysian hero and make Malaysia a strong badminton nation in the women's department. At the end of the day, it's not only the coach's job. It's the players and coach cooperation.

26. Who do you think is current upcoming players ?

No one at the moment, it requires time and exposure to developed the ability on court. For example, how to handle if the shuttle is fast or the draft is against you and etc.

27. Is there any ways for BAM to improve their systems for better results on international scene?

Expose more young players. They have to focus more on the development side in tem of sport science education, nutrition supplement for recovery and system support service such as massage and treatment. Not only seniors who deserved to get these services. The development side is equally important.

28. is planning to start a badminton league. Do you think it will increase the level of the Malaysia badminton? Do you support the league?

Sure it'll improve the level of Malaysia badminton. Competition level will be higher and it will motivate others. As well as promoting the sport. Yes I do support the league but I'm not sure how it runs, as I've never play in any league tournament. I've been invited to play the league in China, but BAM denied my entry.

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