Beyond the SEA games

Beyond the SEA games
EYEING THE OLYMPICS: Shinta Mulia Sari (far left) and Vanessa Neo, Singapore’s new top women’s doubles pair, who are 58th in the world.

Just four months ago, they played their first competition as a pair since 2006, and were ranked 300th in the world.

Today, Singapore's women's doubles pair Vanessa Neo and Shinta Mulia Sari are ranked 58th and are dreaming of playing at the Rio Olympics next year.

They were paired up after last September's Incheon Asian Games in South Korea, following the retirement of Shinta's old partner Yao Lei.

National doubles coach Chua Yong Joo said: "After the Asian Games, we tried a few combinations, but we thought Shinta and Vanessa could be our No. 1 pair because they are seasoned, experienced players who have the skill sets already and had partnered each other before many years ago."

Even so, the early days of the duo's fledging partnership were not smooth.

Neo, 27, is used to a more patient, rallying style of play, while Shinta, 26, and Yao Lei thrived with a more attack-oriented style, which won them the Singapore Open title in 2010 as well as the Commonwealth Games silver that year.

The Republic's former No. 1 women's doubles pair also went to the 2012 Olympics and clinched the bronze at last year's Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

On her new partnership with Neo, Shinta said: "When we started out last November, it wasn't easy, it was very messy during the first few tournaments."

Neo added: "Our rotation (around the court) was off, and still needs a bit of work. There were times when we were both at the net and looking at each other, while the shuttle flew to the back."

They have competed in eight tournaments, including the ongoing Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur where they lost in the first round, but have not progressed past the quarter-finals.

While the two were paired up mainly for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Singapore here from June 5 to 16, their rise up the world rankings has prompted them and their coach to look beyond the SEA Games, towards next year's Olympics.

POSITIVE

Said Neo, who is also targeting Rio with mixed doubles partner Danny Bawa Chrisnanta: "Just a few weeks ago, we realised that our world ranking was in the 80s, and it was really something positive, given where we were when we first started out."

Coach Chua added: "It wouldn't be easy because there are only 16 spots for doubles at the Olympics.

"But it is possible for them to break into the top 20 by the end of the year if they believe in themselves."

Neo and Shinta will continue fine-tuning their partnership next week at the OUE Singapore Open at the Indoor Stadium.

While they lost their first-round tie against Indonesia's world No. 7 pair of Nitya Krishinda Maheswari and Greysia Polii at the Malaysian Open earlier this week, the Singaporeans will face a stiffer test here next week, when they face Japan's world No. 5 tandem of Reika Kakiiwa and Miyuki Maeda.

Shinta said: "The Japanese players tend to have similar playing styles, and they don't really make many mistakes, so it is very important for us to cut down on our mistakes when we face them."

Beyond the Singapore Open, they will compete in four more tournaments - including the mixed team Sudirman Cup - before the SEA Games, by which time they hope to have polished most of the rough edges in their partnership.

Shinta said: "I'm very excited and will give my very best at the SEA Games because all my family and friends will be watching."

Neo added: "We hope to settle our rotation issues and increase our understanding by then. Our goal in June is to win a medal."

sayheng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 4, 2015.
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