Playing in front of a home crowd has always had special meaning for Derek Wong, Singapore's top men's shuttler.
This year's OUE Singapore Open, however, will hold even greater importance as it is a prime opportunity for him to step up.
By his own admission, results following his historic silver medal at last year's Commonwealth Games - Singapore's first men's singles medal at the event - have been less than satisfactory.
"There's definitely been a lack in performance due to some external factors," the world No. 42 told The Straits Times yesterday, ahead of the tournament which begins today.
Wong took part in two Superseries tournaments following the Games, but failed to make the main draw in either of them.
Even at lower-level Grand Prix Gold and International Challenge events, his best performance was a third-round exit at the Indonesian Masters. But this year his form improved, with two successive quarter-final appearances at Grand Prix Gold events.
"There was a lot of attention put on me after I won the silver medal and it affected the regularity of my training."
As the poster boy of Singapore badminton, Wong has long been used to off-court demands such as photo shoots, media interviews and sponsorship events.
But he did not foresee how many more engagements there would be following the Commonwealth Games.
"I did not control (the requests) myself, said yes to everyone, and that's what took up a lot of my time and energy," said Wong, who admitted his confidence took a dip.
"But I'm back in control now. I feel I'm back on the up. So this tournament plays a huge role, especially since it's leading up to the SEA Games in June."
Indeed, Wong's results on court this year, including a win over India's world No. 17 Parupalli Kashyap at the Malaysia Masters, have been encouraging.
National head coach Liu Qingdong said Wong is showing greater composure.
He said: "After a slew of disappointing results, I think Derek was able to reflect on what he needed to do and has shown greater maturity mentally and confidence in his game."
Liu revealed that keeping Wong from competing in the recent India Open and Malaysia Open last month was a strategic move, giving him a more structured training regimen before the Singapore tournament.
"I'm optimistic about Derek's chances," said Liu.
Wong will meet Indonesia's Fikri Ihsandi Hadmadi (No. 101) in his opening match in the qualifying rounds today, after withdrawals promoted Malaysia's Chong Wei Feng into the main draw.
World No. 1 Saina Nehwal was the biggest star to withdraw yesterday, along with Indonesia's world No. 8 Tommy Sugiarto.
Singapore's mixed doubles pair Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Vanessa Neo, the world No. 17s, will open their campaign in the main draw against Chinese Taipei's Liao Min Chun and Chen Hsiao Huan (No. 64).
This article was first published on April 7, 2015.
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