C'wealth Games: Shuttlers pick themselves up to land unexpected bronze

C'wealth Games: Shuttlers pick themselves up to land unexpected bronze

GLASGOW 2014

XX COMMONWEALTH GAMES

July 23-Aug 3

SHINTA Mulia Sari and Yao Lei threw their rackets up and screamed in delight, capping off a dramatic, heart-stopping end to their Commonwealth Games badminton match.

The demons of 2010 had been vanquished as the Singaporean women's doubles duo beat India's Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa 21-17, 29-27 in a tense rubber match to give Singapore a 3-2 victory and an unexpected bronze in the mixed team event.

The same opponents had pipped them to the women's doubles gold in New Delhi four years ago, and also won a group stage encounter at the 2012 Olympics.

At the Emirates Arena yesterday, it was the turn of the Singaporeans to be embraced by their team-mates on court, enveloped by a standing ovation and the joy of winning their first team medal since a silver in 2002.

"Amazing, just brilliant - India were the clear favourites and we took them down for a change," a teary-eyed Shinta told The Straits Times.

"It was not the gold we were hoping for but any medal, especially after the year we had, is welcome."

It certainly felt like a final. Gasps echoed across the 4,000-strong crowd when the Singaporean duo initially failed to convert five match points, including two that arrived after their opponents inexplicably served into the net.

Yao said: "We were only thinking about winning. We kept telling ourselves we only need one point and just to play normally, because we are so close."

Singapore's shuttlers had come under fire after sub-par performances at the SEA Games and Singapore Open last year.

They were up against a strong Indian outfit, who were placed second and third at the last two Commonwealth editions and fielded all their top players except injured top female star Saina Nehwal.

Singapore also had to pick themselves up after an agonising 2-3 semi-final defeat by Malaysia a day earlier.

They were on the right side of the same scoreline yesterday, after holding a team meeting to address low morale.

Team manager Chua Yong Joo said: "The message was we didn't play badly against Malaysia, they were just better.

"We lost but we couldn't afford to moan. We still had a shot at a medal and if we didn't take that, it would hurt for a much longer time."

That is no longer a concern, thanks to wins from Vanessa Neo and Danny Chrisnanta in the mixed doubles as well as men's pair Chayut Triyachart and Chrisnanta, who had only a half-hour rest after his earlier match.

With Singapore up 2-1, Liang Xiaoyu could have won the decisive third point in the women's singles.

But the 18-year-old Games debutant blew a 20-17 lead in the first game to fall 22-24, 13-21 to world No. 11 P.V. Sindhu.

It set the stage for Singapore's top women's duo to have the final say against their old rivals, who were too upset to speak to the media after the tie.

India may have under-estimated their opponents, judging by their comments after Neo and Chrisnanta beat scratch pairing Ponnappa and V.R. Gurusaidutt 21-19, 21-19 in the opener

Ponnappa said at the time that "if we won, then it would be a bonus".

The 2010 women's doubles gold medallist added: "We don't have a mixed doubles pair so we focus on our strong points which are the singles, and men's and women's doubles."

Thankfully for Singapore, she was wrong, giving the squad a timely confidence boost ahead of the start of singles and doubles action today.

Derek Wong, the Republic's main hope in the men's singles, said: "We are all going for a medal of a different colour now."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 29, 2014.
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