Shuttler Xiaoyu stuns world No. 8 to storm into final
Xiaoyu, 19, shocks world No. 8 Ratchanok to reach Thailand final
She is ranked 120th in the world while her opponent is No. 8 and a former world champion.
National shuttler Liang Xiaoyu pulled off Singapore badminton's biggest upset of the year when she beat Asian champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand 22-20, 13-21, 21-17 in the semi-finals of the US$120,000 ($170,000) Thailand Open yesterday.
The fact that she achieved the feat in front of a partisan 20,000 home crowd at the Thunder Dome in Muang Thong Thani made her victory more remarkable.
The 19-year-old, who saved a game-point in the opening game of the 67-minute match, will take on South Korea's world No. 7 Sung Ji Hyun today in a bid to win her first senior title.
"This is the biggest win of my career. I've played her three times before in team events, including the SEA Games, but this is the first time I've beaten her," Xiaoyu told The New Paper after the match.
"My mentality was quite calm. I didn't overthink, I just tried to play every point well and fight for every point.
"This was Ratchanok's home ground, so there were many of her supporters, but this could also have added pressure on her.
"Previously, I have made quarter-finals or semi-finals, so I'm very happy to be able to get into my first senior final. At the same time, I can't get too excited because it's not over yet and I still have one big match to play.
"I have never played against Sung, but I will analyse her previous matches with my coach."
Xiaoyu spent two training stints in Thailand this year, when she trained with Ratchanok at the Banthongyord Badminton School for almost six weeks. It helped her understand better the Thai's style of play.
Throughout the Grand Prix Gold event, Xiaoyu has displayed skills and temperament beyond her lowly ranking as she clinically took out higher-ranked opponents such as Australia's Wendy Chen (72nd), China's Chen Yufei (112th) and Thailand's Pornpawee Chochuwong (51st).
Xiaoyu paid tribute to her coach Ding Chao, one of four national coaches under chief coach Chua Yong Joo.
She said: "Before this tournament, we had a one-month centralised training in Singapore and we prepared very well.
"Coach Ding also coaches me very well on court and we have a good chemistry. There were many times when I didn't know what to do, he gave me the right suggestions right away."
Ding also lauded his young charge, saying: "Xiaoyu played without any pressure and that was very crucial. She executed her tactics very well and restricted her opponent's chances of scoring.
"Even though she was tired in the third set, she still managed to pull through with her willpower. Xiaoyu's attack is not very good, so we need to help her improve on that, and also the variety of her shots and running ability.
"Just like the semi-final, there won't be any pressure on Xiaoyu in the final, so she needs to go into the match with the right frame of mind.
"Sung is tall at 1.75 metres, so Xiaoyu needs to defend better.
"We won't pressure her to win the gold because she is still 19. We just want to see her improve with every match and expend all her energy out there on the court."
While her world ranking may not improve in time for her to qualify for the Rio Olympics next year - teammate and world No. 42 Chen Jiayuan is ahead - Liang has set her sights on making it to Tokyo 2020.
She said: "It should be every athlete's dream to compete at the Olympics and I am no different.
"I understand that my ranking is too low for now, but I will keep trying. If I can't make it to Brazil, I will try again for Japan.
"What won't change is I will strive to play every match well, improve and give myself the chance to play with the best shuttlers in the world."