THE absence of world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei has thrown Mohd Hafiz Hashim into uncharted waters in the Laos SEA Games.
And Hafiz is determined to deal with the situation playing as the first singles player in a team event for the first time.
The team competition begins on Friday and top seeds Malaysia have a first-round bye.
With Chong Wei out because of injury, Malaysia are left with Hafiz, Kuan Beng Hong and Liew Daren as their singles players. But the team have options in the doubles and they can choose from Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif-Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari and Chan Peng Soon-Lim Khim Wah for the two matches in a five-match tie.
Hafiz said that he was looking forward to playing the lead role.
“The absence of Chong Wei did not come as a shock because he has been playing in too many tournaments. It has been too taxing on him,” said Hafiz.
“Initially, I had my reservation because I had never played before in the opening match of a team tie. I have played second and third singles.
“Now, I think, this will be a great experience for me. The first singles is so important. A win or defeat will set the tone and I hope to inspire my team-mates by doing well.
“It is also good to achieve good results in the team event as it will give us an early boost ahead of the Thomas Cup Finals (at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil in May).”
The first singles player in the teams of the other top contenders for medals are Nguyen Tien Minh (Vietnam), Boonsak Ponsana (Thailand) and Sony Dwi Kuncoro (Indonesia).
Malaysia are expected to take on fourth seeds Vietnam in the semi-finals and if they advance, they will play against either Thailand or Indonesia for the gold medal.
Hafiz is taking part in only his second SEA Games. His first was in 2005 in Manila in 2005 and Malaysia emerged as the team champions. STAR