Shuttler Liang unfazed by pressure
Shuttler Liang Xiaoyu stays focused as she targets quarter-final spot in singles
Winning had been a habit in the earlier part of Liang Xiaoyu's badminton career.
The Jiangsu native was the age-group provincial champion before she moved to Singapore in 2007, and was once world No. 4 at junior level.
But, making the step up to the full international stage proved tougher than she had anticipated, as she found out two years ago.
"At junior level, I would win more matches than I lost but, at the open level, players are physically stronger and have better techniques," said Liang in a recent interview.
"I was the fourth-best player in the world at junior level, but my ranking was in the hundreds when I first started out in the senior level.
"It was normal for me to lose more than I won, but I felt down.
"I had to play in the qualifiers in most tournaments, and wondered why my ranking couldn't go up as quickly as I wanted."
But the reserved shuttler was tough as nails, thanks to her upbringing - at age five, she used to wake up at 5am and cycle for kilometres with her cousin to learn wushu.
When she was 10, she accompanied her father on a one-way trip to Singapore, both unsure of what life was to bring in the sunny island.
She felt lost initially, because everyone around her was speaking in English, but she has learnt to cope after gradually becoming conversant in the language.
With the help of her coaches and father Liang Huajun, who is also a badminton coach, the young shuttler eventually started to get used to, and even thrive at the senior level.
She hit a purple patch late last year - more than half a year after quitting school to focus on the sport - when she beat former Thai world champion Ratchanok Intanon in the Thailand Open semi-finals in October.
She then won the Maybank Malaysia International Challenge Championships the following month, and has risen some 90 places in the world ranking since then, to her career-best 29th early last month.
As fate would have it, Liang has been drawn against South Korean world No. 7 Sung Ji Hyun in Group C of the women's singles competition, along with France's Delphine Lansac.
Only the champion of each of the 13 groups will advance to the Round of 16.
Liang had lost to the Korean twice.
The first was a 21-11, 21-14 reverse in the Thailand International Challenge last year, after she had beaten Ratchanok in the last four.
The second was a much closer affair, a 21-17, 21-19 defeat at the Indonesian Open in June, a sign that she might have narrowed the gap.
If she manages to reach her goal of qualifying for the Olympic quarter-finals, she will become only the fourth Singaporean to progress to the last eight since badminton was included as a medal sport in 1992, after men's singles player Ronald Susilo (Athens 2004) and the women's doubles pair of Jiang Yanmei and Li Yujia (Beijing 2008).
Liang said: "Pressure? Of course, there would be pressure, because everyone has expectations of you to do well.
"I will also give myself pressure if I think too much but, as a professional athlete, I have to tackle this myself.
"Everyone wants to be in the top eight or even better, but you must have a target and the confidence to work towards it."
Everyone wants to be in the top eight or even better, but you must have a target and the confidence to work towards it.
— Singapore shuttler Liang Xiaoyu
- Name: Liang Xiaoyu
- Date of birth: Jan 11, 1996
- Occupation: Professional shuttler
- Previous Olympic experience: Nanjing Youth Olympics 2014
- Honour roll: - Champion, women's singles, Malaysia International Challenge Championships, 2015 - Second, women's singles, Thailand International Challenge 2015 - Bronze, women's team, South-east Asia Games 2015 - Bronze, mixed team, Commonwealth Games 2014
- Team: Derek Wong (men's singles), Liang Xiaoyu (women's singles)