By Mark Etheridge
South Africa’s three prospective 2016 Olympic Games badminton hopes had a victorious end to their 2015 season and are fully focused on booking their spot on Team SA in Brazil.
After taking part in the 2015 African Games in Brazzaville, Congo, Jacob Maliekal (singles) and the doubles combo of Wiaan Viljoen and Andries Malan played in three tournaments around Africa.
Maliekal reached the quarter-final stages of all three tournaments while the doubles team was even more successful, winning the ‘away’ tournaments in Zambia and Botswana and losing out in the final of the SA International in Cape Town.
All tournaments resulted in more valuable world ranking points for the trio.
Says national coach Chris Dednam: ‘Jacob’s ranking after these tournaments was 81. At the moment it’s looking good for him as he must be top 100 and the highest African player on the world rankings list, which he now is.
‘The doubles pair was 59 and also the top African pair, but they must still get into the top 50 on the world ranking. They have until the end of April to accumulate world ranking points in order to qualify.
‘During February they’ll play the Uganda International and Jacob will play the Thailand Open (being based in China) and the doubles pair will play the Mauritius International. After February we will assess again to decide what other tournaments they must play.’
For his part Viljoen is confident as the road to Rio is covered ever quicker. ‘We got the results we wanted in 2015 and are looking to build on that. In Zambia Andries was ill so we had to dig deep to win. We had a little slip up in Cape Town in the final but beat the same couple in Botswana the week after and won the tournament.
‘Botswana was very important because we won it in 2014 so the pressure was on to win in 2015 to replace those points.’
Looking further down the road and it’s all systems go for the Bloemfontein-based ace. ‘February, March and April are crucial for us because its the last three months of qualification so hopefully our funding will come through in time to play the last couple of tournaments. Our ranking is 59 now and to reach the magic 50 mark we need to do well and play as much as possible.
‘February sees the first two tournaments with the Thomas Cup team qualification in Mauritius where the winner will go to the World Finals in China in May. Straight after that is Uganda International and a good tournament for us because we didn’t play it in 2015 and it will be new points.
‘Depending on funding we have a choice of March tournaments in South America, Europe or two premier tournaments in Asia. But winning in Africa is key and doing as well as possible with the others is very important. Andries and I are very positive because we have done the hard work so far and our partnership is gelling well.’