Vietnamese paddler gatecrashes Singapore's party
Vietnamese paddler remains calm despite partisan home crowd and seeing her coach sent off
She jumped over the barriers that surrounded her court after her match, and ran to embrace her coach, who had earlier been sent off the playing area.
Vietnamese paddler Nguyen Thi Nga hadn't won a South-east Asia (SEA) Games medal yet.
But she is almost assured of one, after beating Singaporean Isabelle Li in a women's singles Pool A tie yesterday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The 21-year-old Hanoi native beat the home favourite 9-11, 12-10, 7-11, 14-12, 11-6 in a thrilling 54-minute match. In the process, she topped the group with four points from two matches, while Li, 20, is second with three points.
Nguyen will face Myanmar's San Khin Kaung - who lost both her matches in straight games - today, with only the top paddler from each of the four groups advancing to the semi-finals.
"I lost to her (Li) at the South-east Asian Championships last November, but I don't think there's any secret in beating her today.
"I just practised harder," said Nguyen, who does not have a world ranking.
She overcame the pressure of a partisan home crowd cheering for Li, the world No. 107, as well as the shock of having her coach Nguyen Nam Hai sent off when she was leading 4-3 in the fourth game, to score the upset of the day.
Nguyen said: "There is definitely pressure from the crowd cheering for my opponent, but it gave me more motivation to play better.
"I was a little nervous when my coach got ejected, but I calmed down and told myself that I had to think for myself."
"I told myself not to panic, not to care about the score, and just play my best no matter what," added Nguyen, who did not progress past the group stages in her debut at the 2013 Games.
She is not even the national champion in Vietnam - she is second to veteran Mai Hoang My Trang - but she may guarantee herself a SEA Games medal today, if she makes it to the last four.
Losing semi-finalists are awarded joint-bronzes.
"I know the significance of the match tomorrow, so even though my opponent is not so strong, I will prepare myself well and do my best to beat her," she said.
Meanwhile, Li was disconsolate after her defeat, even though she can still make the semi-finals if she wins and Nguyen loses today.
The 2011 and 2013 women's singles silver medallist said: "I think my chances of making the main draw are actually gone and my singles (campaign) ends here.
"But there's another match tomorrow and I will do my best.
"It wasn't something I expected; I didn't have a good feeling today on court, and made a lot of mistakes.
"She played well... she was attacking very fiercely while I was too defensive. I wasn't able to bring my form onto court today and it gave her confidence. I am very disappointed."
Women's head coach Jing Junhong believes Li had been too cautious.
Said Jing: "Playing on home ground can be an advantage, but also a burden if you don't handle it well.
"She was carrying an obvious burden today.
"She played too safe and, as a chopper, you'd be at a disadvantage once your opponent gets into her game and rhythm."
Meanwhile, world No. 4 Feng Tianwei remains on track to win the gold, topping Pool C with her 3-0 victory over Indonesia's Novita Oktariyani.
Jing said: "Regardless of Isabelle's results, Tianwei knows the pressures and expectations on her as the team captain."
There is definitely pressure from the crowd cheering for my opponent, but it gave me more motivation to play better.
— Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Nga, after beating Singapore’s Isabelle Li