Rio on Liang's mind
Liang looks for Singapore Open boost as Olympic prospects brighten
With the Republic's top men's player Derek Wong fighting to book his ticket for the 2016 Olympics, another local shuttler is quietly going about her business on the Road to Rio.
Liang Xiaoyu signalled her intention to make the August Games with a precious victory over former world champion Ratchanok Intanon in the women's singles semi-finals of the Thailand Open last October.
A month later, the world No. 42 showed no signs of slowing down when she claimed the women's singles title at the Maybank Malaysia International Challenge Championships.
The top 38 players in the world will earn an automatic Olympic berth.
China, Japan and South Korea boast a clutch of shuttlers in that elite group but, with each country allowed a maximum of only two players, Liang's prospects are looking good.
She is fully focused on the OUE Singapore Open, which begins today at the Indoor Stadium, and the 20-year-old is out to boost her Olympic prospects in the US$350,000 ($470,000) competition.
"I want to play well in this competition to get more points to boost my ranking," she said, at a press conference at the Mandarin Orchard yesterday.
" I hope I can hit the top 16, so I can avoid the first or second seed in the first round of the Olympics."
It will not be an easy task.
She will take on reigning champion and world No. 12 Sun Yu of China in the opening round tomorrow.
If she does cause an upset, she will likely take on second seed and All-England champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in the second round.
Despite the daunting challenge, and the pressure of performing on home soil, Liang is largely unfazed.
"I will be a bit nervous because my friends and parents will be watching, and my opponent is strong, but it will not do me any good if I go into the match feeling scared," she said, ahead of her date with Sun.
"Winning or losing is normal; I want to clear my mind and not think too much about whether my opponent is the defending champion or not, I'll just play every point to my maximum.
"I'll think about my opponent in the second round if I win the first."
The Singapore Olympic badminton contingent could be boosted further by mixed doubles pair Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Vanessa Neo, who are looking to make a late push for qualification after an encouraging display at the Malaysia Open last week.
But Liang looks the likelier candidate to be on the plane for Rio de Janeiro, with the Singapore Sports School graduate labelling her win over Ratchanok as the defining moment in her pursuit of the Olympic dream.
"Before I beat Ratchanok last year, I was ranked in the hundreds, so I thought making the Olympics would have been difficult," she said.
"But, after I beat her and my ranking jumped to the 80s, I thought I had a chance."