Local shuttlers to get top sparring partners
World No. 16 Sugiarto the first player lined up as SBA gears up for SEA Games
Local shuttlers can look forward to some top-tier sparring partners as they prepare for a medal assault at the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines.
Singapore's top singles players have shown signs of promise ahead of the biennial Games with some impressive performances at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships in Basel, which ended yesterday.
World No. 32 Yeo Jia Min was the second-best performing South-east Asian woman in Switzerland, knocking out world No. 1 Akane Yamaguchi before eventually succumbing to Thailand's world No. 6 Ratchanok Intanon in the quarter-finals.
The 20-year-old is the first Singaporean woman singles player to reach the last eight at the World Championships.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old men's world No. 34 Loh Kean Yew - who beat legendary former No. 1 Lin Dan in the Thai Masters final in January - pushed world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen all the way in their last-16 clash, before losing 13-21, 21-18, 17-21.
Speaking to the media as he welcomed home the pair at Changi Airport yesterday, Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) president Lawrence Leow said that elite sparring partners have been lined up in preparation for the SEA Games.
First up is Indonesia's world No. 16 Tommy Sugiarto.
The former World Championship bronze medallist will be in town this week.
While SBA did not reveal who the other sparring partners are, it said that it has targeted four to six players who are either in the world's top 20 or "have been there and done that".
Said Leow: "During the SEA Games centralised training (Oct 14 to Nov 23), we are going to get top players to spar with them.
"We are working on some names now. These top players, current top players, will come and spar with our players so we can have another angle for preparing them for the SEA Games...
"That is where you can actually do more. In competition, you only compete for two or three sets.
"But with this, you can have a few days (of sparring with them)... So you don't only experience them during a competition."
Yeo had said after her 17-21, 11-21 loss to eventual bronze medallist Ratchanok: "I do not have many chances to play or train against top players, so this was another good experience for me."
Meanwhile, Loh yesterday said he was looking forward to sparring with two-time SEA Games gold medallist Sugiarto.
The Indonesian, 31, had beaten Loh 21-19, 20-22, 21-15 at the Australian Open in June.
Said Loh: "To play with high-level (players) is something I'm always looking forward to...
"Bringing in sparring partners is good because in a way we still have (the benefit of training at) home. I can still do whatever routines I have been doing and I can also train with sparring partners.
"And it will help all the other players as well... and we can raise our level together."
National singles head coach Mulyo Handoyo has been impressed with how Loh and Yeo raised their game in Basel, and lauded their psychological improvements.
He said: "I can see growth. There was a lot of improvement in their mentality.
"They were more daring to take decisions and daring to fight (on court)."
Yeo's mother Judy said her daughter's performances in Switzerland had been a "breakthrough", adding that she was "pleasantly surprised by the big improvement".
But with the improvement comes additional pressure at the SEA Games.
Not that Yeo is fazed.
She said: "The pressure will be there, but I think it will make us stronger. So I'll just go with the flow and do what I have been doing."