By Mark Etheridge
His trip to a debut Olympics delayed by a typhoon this week, South Africa’s sole badminton player will be looking for his own hurricane-sized upset next week.
Based in Shenzhen, China, Maliekal finally arrived here on Wednesday afternoon after being set to leave Hong Kong on Monday afternoon.
‘There was a typhoon warning so I eventually checked into a hotel for the night. We were then scheduled to fly at 6.30pm the next day but there were operational issues with the plane.
‘I fell asleep as soon as I got onto the plane and was surprised to wake up two and a half hours later and we were still on the ground,’ says the 27-year-old athlete who represented Team South Africa at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. ‘The delays meant that I only had to spend six hours in transit in Dubai rather than the original 10 hours.’
Maliekal finally arrived in Rio on Wednesday afternoon after a 16-hour slog from Dubai.
And he’ll need to hit the ground running as he’s in a tough draw at the Rio Centro venue for next week’s action.
He’s been drawn in Group N alongside South Korea’s Wan-Ho Son and Ukraine’s
Artem Pochtarev, both of whom are ranked higher than him. Wan-Ho slots in at eighth and Pochtarev is 73rd. Maliekal, South Africa’s highest ranked player, is 77th.
The format is brutal. It’s round-robin action and only the top player in each group lives to fight another day in the round of 16.
‘I’ve played the Korean guy before, five years ago at World Champs in London where I lost to him, and I’ve never played the guy from Ukraine.
‘I’m happy with my form right now though and really believe I’m able to cause an upset here. I just need to stay relaxed, I play better that way.
‘I played well in the Thomas Cup this year and that has been great for my confidence.’
He’ll also have extra motivation to shine in Rio as his parents are coming over from East London to watch him play and are then staying over for a while.
‘Then I’ll head back home to East London for a bit and then back to China. I’m on a two-year contract with the Kawasaki Club and that comes up for re-negotiation in May/June.