C'wealth Games: Heartbreak for shuttlers

C'wealth Games: Heartbreak for shuttlers

So near yet so far.

Singapore's badminton team were just one match from making the Commonwealth Games mixed team final for the first time since 2002.

With the semi-final tied at 2-2 against defending champions Malaysia yesterday, the signs certainly looked good for the Republic.

Singapore held a slight edge in the deciding fifth match - the mixed doubles - at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Republic's mixed doubles team of Danny Chrisnanta and Vanessa Neo are ranked world No. 10 - the only pair inside the world's top 10 at the Commonwealth Games.

On the other hand, their Malaysian counterparts Chan Peng Soon and Lai Pei Jing are not ranked by the World Badminton Federation, but are seeded fifth in the mixed doubles event in Glasgow.

The Singaporean duo showed their superiority in the first set as they won 21-17. But it all turned awry after that.

The Malaysians regrouped and won the next two sets 21-12, 21-14 to qualify for today's final.

They will face either England or India, who were scheduled to meet in the other semi-final this morning. The losers of the second semi-final will meet Singapore in the bronze play-off.

Chan and Lai upped their game in the second set, committing fewer unforced errors and capitalising on Singapore's weakness at the net.

Turning Point

The third set was a tight affair, but the turning point came when the score was 13-12 in the Republic's favour.

Malaysia moved up a gear as they scored six straight points before Chrisnanta crucially erred on his service at 18-14.

Chan and Lai, who are not considered Malaysia's prime mixed doubles pair, made no mistake on their two service points as they sealed victory.

"It was not so much complacency which caused us to lose the second set," Singapore national coach Liu Qingdong told The New Paper in a phone interview from Glasgow after the match.

"Rather, Malaysia managed to figure out our game plan. We tried to do more in the third set, but our opponents simply read our game better.

"It's disappointing because we came so close. Now we just have to keep focus and try and win the bronze medal."

The Singapore shuttlers experienced little trouble en route to the semi-finals, winning all their three Group E matches before cruising past Australia 3-0 in the quarter-finals.

Even though Singapore came up against the defending champions in yesterday semi-finals, the Malaysians were missing world No. 1 singles player Lee Chong Wei and the squad consisted mostly of developmental players.

Singapore's men's doubles pairing of Chayut Triyachart and Chrisnanta put up a gallant fight against Tan Wee Kiong and Goh Wei Shem, the top seeds in the men's doubles bracket, but succumbed 17-21, 21-18, 16-21 in the end.

"It's a big pity that (Chayut and Chrisnanta) couldn't pull off an upset in the third set," said Liu.

"I thought we could've won that game and, if we did, we would be in the final."

One bright spark for Singapore was the performance of 18-year-old women's singles player Liang Xiaoyu.

The China-born shuttler, making her Commonwealth Games debut, produced a mature performance against Tee Jing Yi, edging her more experienced opponent 22-20 in a tense second set after winning the first 21-12 to level the score at 1-1 for Singapore.

Singapore fell behind again when Derek Wong lost his men's singles bout against Chong Wei Feng 21-9, 21-18, before the top-seeded women's doubles pair of Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei restored parity by beating Vivian Kah and Woon Khe Wei 21-9, 21-18.

It was left to mixed doubles pair of Neo and Chrisnanta to seal a spot in the final for Singapore, but it was not to be.

However, the shuttlers deserve a pat on their backs for their gallant show yesterday after a tough year for the sport.

A poor outing at last year's South-east Asia Games, where they returned with just one bronze, down from a gold and four bronzes in 2011, was followed by a dismal showing at the Singapore Open earlier this year.

Then, top-ranked women's singles player Gu Juan quit in May, citing a lack of faith in the new coaching system as one reason for her departure.

The Republic's shuttlers bagged one silver and two bronze medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

aakasim@sph.com.sg

This article was published on July 28 in The New Paper.

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