Shuttlers Loh Kean Yew and Yeo Jia Min aiming high at SEA Games
Loh and Yeo, who both beat ex-world No. 1s, hope to medal at the SEA Games
Buoyed by what has been a positive 2019, Singapore's shuttlers are gunning to end their year topped with a cherry in the form of a SEA Games medal.
The likes of Loh Kean Yew, Yeo Jia Min and Jaslyn Hooi have already claimed some big scalps in singles competitions.
Loh kicked off the year with a bang when he beat Chinese icon, Lin Dan, a two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion, in the Thailand Masters final.
In August, at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships, he edged out France's Thomas Rouxel to become the first Singaporean to advance to the last 16 of the men's singles since Derek Wong in 2011.
Yeo got in on the giant-slaying act as well at that tournament.
She overcame Japan's Akane Yamaguchi, the world No. 1 at that time, to qualify for the third round of the women's singles.
Yeo went on to reach the quarter-finals, becoming the first first Singaporean woman singles player to do so.
In April's Singapore Open, Jaslyn caused an upset in her qualifying match against world No. 65, Canadian Brittney Tam, beating her 21-17, 24-22.
The results have been a shot in the arm for the shuttlers in a Games year.
Loh, 22, told The New Paper on the sidelines of a training session at the OCBC Arena: "Definitely, when you post such results in a year, it builds your confidence and more people take notice of you.
"But I think it is also important to keep training hard and looking at the mistakes you make, and correcting them.
"But I won't deny, the results have been a boost."
But Loh, who will be representing Singapore in the men's singles at the Games with Joel Koh, 18, refused to be drawn in on his medal chances.
The closest that he has come was a bronze medal in the 2015 Games on home soil.
"Training has been intense and of course we all want to do our best," he added.
"There is going to be a lot of tough competition at the Games and I will need to be sharp and at the top of my game."
Yeo, however, was more forthcoming on her chances in the Philippines.
She said: "My target is to play well and win at the SEA Games.
"I have progressed in various areas this year and gained experience seeing and competing with top players.
"There have been many setbacks as well.
"But it is a period when I have had more experience and found out more about myself and learned how to overcome difficulties.
"I feel more motivated now to challenge myself."
Mulyo Handoyo, 59, Singapore's singles chief coach, notes that while he hopes for at least a singles medal, it won't be easy because of the calibre of opponents.
He said: "Several players from a few other countries have the same chances as us.
"But preparations for the Games have been good, especially in terms of our focus and physical conditioning.
"I hope we can get a medal."
The feats of Singapore's top male and female shuttlers, Loh and Yeo, in the past year have also motivated their younger teammates to make themselves noticed at these Games.
The other men's and women's singles representatives are Joel and Jaslyn, who are making their SEA Games debut.
Both also represented Singapore at last year's Youth Olympic Games in Argentina.
Said Jaslyn, 19: "It's really exciting for me to play at the Games, because it is a competition that is regarded to be really important by Singaporeans.
"I was a spectator at the 2015 Games, so to be a competitor now is special.
"Kean Yew and Jia Min are real role models for me and the younger players.
"I try to learn from them and just follow what they do during training.
"When they do extra training, I follow as well and sometimes when I have questions, I will just ask them.
"I have learnt so much from them."