Shuttlers eye medals at Asian Games
After creating history at the Commonwealth Games, Singapore's shuttlers turn their attention towards a daunting assignment - the Asian Games.
The Games will be held in Incheon, South Korea, from Sept 19 to Oct 4, and with world-class shuttlers from China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and the hosts all hungry for medals, many of the nations who enjoyed success in badminton at the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Scotland will struggle to make an impression in the Asiad.
Singapore's doubles specialist Danny Chrisnanta, though, believes one of the Republic's pairs can achieve a surprise podium finish in South Korea.
Speaking to The New Paper at the Singapore Badminton Association's homecoming yesterday at the Singapore Badminton Hall, Chrisnanta said: "I think it's possible to get a medal at the Asian Games."
Clearly, the 25-year-old was buoyed by the silver he claimed in the men's doubles, with Chayut Triyachart, and a bronze in the mixed team event.
Chrisnanta and Triyachart are ranked world No. 32 in the men's doubles, and his mixed doubles partnership with Vanessa Neo is 10th in the world. Women's doubles tandem Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei are the world's 15th-best.
"We can compete against the best, and we can even beat them," insisted Chrisnanta, who has partnered Neo in beating higher-ranked pairings like Thailand's world No. 8 Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam, and Indonesia's world No. 9 Markis Kido and Pia Bernadeth this year.
He added: "We just need to be more consistent. In any competition, the winners are always the ones who can handle the pressure best and take risks at the right time.
"At the moment, we are missing little things that are not easy to find. Some of these things are mental, which you get only when you win big competitions. It's not something that's easy to learn, and the world-class players already have that.
"We can try to close the gap by exerting pressure on the top opponents we will meet at the Asian Games and South-east Asia Games, and when we see the chance to win, we must take it."
Besides success in the men's doubles, Derek Wong also made a stunning run to the men's singles final at the Commonwealth Games, losing narrowly in three sets to India's Kashyap Parupalli.
It was the first time Singapore won a silver medal in men's badminton at the Games.
Singapore's only medal at the Asian Games was the women's team bronze in Doha in 2006.
But Neo, who has partnered Chrisnanta for more than three years, said: "Capability-wise, we can match the big guns. Tactics-wise, we must analyse more of our opponents' videos, and think more and think faster on court.
"Definitely the chance to medal at the Asian Games is there.
"Both Danny and I are fortunate to benefit from the Spex (Sports Excellence) Scholarship, which allows us to move out of the Asia circuit more often and take on the best players from Europe, too.
"The physiotherapy, biomechanics and nutritional support also help us to improve."
National badminton coach Liu Qingdong and doubles coach Chua Yong Joo agree that the doubles teams are Singapore's best bets at the moment, although there is plenty of room for improvement.
Both the pairings of Shinta and Yao Lei, and Chrisnanta and Neo, crashed out of the Commonwealth Games at the quarter-final stage in the women's and mixed doubles respectively, going down 2-1 to Malaysian pairs.
"In terms of technique, speed, power and fitness, we can still improve," said Liu.
"The field at the Asian Games is definitely stronger than the Commonwealth Games, but our shuttlers have shown they can beat higher-ranked opponents.
"We are definitely good enough to make it to the top 16 or even top eight. At that stage, anything can happen and it's up to how the players perform on the occasion."
Our Commonwealth Games achievement is definitely a morale booster for the team. They are more confident of themselves. The Asian Games is definitely much tougher... but I believe our players will go and fight all the way for a medal.
- National badminton coach Liu Qingdong
Yao Lei may miss Incheon Asiad
Singapore's world No. 15 women's doubles pair of Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei could miss the Asian Games as the latter battles injuries to her elbow and ankle.
Yao Lei, 24, is also slated to pair with Chayut Triyachart in the mixed doubles.
Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) director of team performance and doubles coach Chua Yong Joo told The New Paper: "Yao Lei has been coping and playing with the injuries for years. It's not that serious to warrant surgery but we are looking at how we can manage them and strengthen her so that she can continue to do well.
"We will monitor her situation and are hopeful she will be available for the Asiad."
At the moment, only the women's doubles pair of Shinta and Yao Lei, men's duo Danny Chrisnanta and Triyachart, and mixed doubles tandems of Chrisnanta and Vanessa Neo, and Triyachart and Yao Lei, have made the Singapore National Olympic Council's cut for the Asian Games.
No singles player is currently on the list of Team Singapore athletes set for Incheon, South Korea, although TNP understands the SBA will appeal for Singapore men's No. 1 Derek Wong, after he clinched the silver at the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.