S'pore can make a racket

S'pore can make a racket
Derek Wong beats India's RV Gurusaidutt in the badminton Men's singles semi-final round at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland on 2 Aug 2014.

India's jubilant journalists had already made their way down to the mixed zone at the Emirates Arena yesterday, ready to hear from their new badminton hero R.V. Gurusaidutt.

Up 19-15 in the second game after winning the first, the Hyderabad native had seemingly booked his spot in the Commonwealth Games men's singles final .

What he - and his countrymen - did not count on was an amazing fightback from a seemingly deflated opponent.

Derek Wong was perhaps the only person in the venue who thought he still had a chance.

"He was leading comfortably but I saw his face - he was struggling, looking really tired," said the 25-year-old Singaporean. "I told myself: 'Okay Derek, give it one final push.' No guts, no glory, right?"

How right he was. By forcing his fatigued foe around the court through extended rallies, Wong won six straight points to steal the second game.

Said a disconsolate Gurusaidutt, who had beaten Malaysian top seed Chong Wei Feng in a 67-minute quarter-final clash a day earlier: "I wasn't brave enough at the time and he came up - maybe I didn't believe I could win the match."

Short of energy and confidence, the world No. 34 eventually went down 21-16, 19-21, 15-21 to Wong.

Guaranteed of at least a silver, the Singapore Institute of Management graduate becomes the Republic's first-ever men's singles medallist at the Games.

While Singapore has won the women's singles title - Li Li managed the feat at the 2002 Manchester Games - it has never had a men's singles finalist in the Games' 84-year history.

Compatriots Danny Chrisnanta and Chayut Triyachart also made history later, becoming Singapore's first men's double finalists after a 16-21, 21-16, 21-19 win over England's Peter Mills and Chris Langridge.

Chayut, who won a bronze in the mixed doubles four years ago, said: "We didn't expect to reach this far. All we wanted was a medal so we're very happy to have achieved that."

They will square off against unseeded Malaysians Tan Wee Kiong and Goh Wei Shem in the gold medal match today.

Wong, meanwhile, was swamped by autograph seekers before he met Singapore reporters after the match, and proceeded to repeatedly praise the man who stood by him through a turbulent career.

Said the son of 1983 SEA Games men's singles champion Wong Shoon Keat: "This is for my father - he's been there through all the downs.

"When I won, his face was the first thing that came to my mind."

Fiancee Vanessa Neo, also a national player, jumped out off her seat in excitement at the climax, as did the rest of the small Team Singapore contingent.

Neo said: "Derek has always had the ability but he needed to believe in himself. This, I hope, will change his life."

Wong's nine-year international stint has been pockmarked by round-of-16 and quarter-final exits at major tournaments.

A bronze at the 2011 SEA Games is the highlight of his singles career - until now.

In today's final, he will face his third straight Indian opponent - Parupalli Kashyap, the attack-minded 2010 bronze medallist.

Wong said: "Let's make it a super Sunday for Singapore badminton - one goal, two golds."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 3 in The Straits Times.


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