A STANDING ovation greeted arch-rivals Singapore and Malaysia after nearly five hours of intense badminton action yesterday in the Commonwealth Games mixed team semi-final at the Emirates Arena.
The 4,000-strong crowd knew they had seen a sporting drama that had kept everyone in suspense right till the end.
Winners arrived from breathtaking angles, smashes were followed by thunderous shouts and no apologies were given for lucky shots that clipped the net.
Unfortunately for the Singaporeans, it was not the happy ending they were hoping for.
Vanessa Neo and Danny Chrisnanta lost a 67-minute rubber match 21-17, 12-21, 14-21 to Chan Peng Soon and Lai Pei Jing, sending the two-time defending champions into today's final against either England or India. Singapore will have to pick themselves up for the bronze-medal tie after coming close in a painful 2-3 defeat.
Locked at 10-10 in the final game, Neo blamed nerves at this crucial juncture for the Republic's failure to reach the final for the first time since 2002.
Their opponents went on to win eight of the next 11 points, attacking right from their serve.
"They were more composed - it boils down to strategy for the final few points and theirs were better," said the National University of Singapore graduate with a sigh.
Chrisnanta added: "We made a small change, trying to push them long and it didn't work.
"It's a hard loss to take because we won the first game."
Malaysia, who were without injured world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, had reached four of the last five finals and swept four of the six badminton golds on offer at the 2010 Delhi Games.
Yesterday, they were given their biggest scare by the one team they did not want to lose to. Chan said: "I wouldn't say we were over-confident but it was definitely a shock to see how aggressive Singapore were at first.
"We had to re-group and find new ways to win."
Sensing an upset was on the cards, the local crowd screamed the names of Games debutant Liang Xiaoyu and the women's pairing of Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei during their matches.
Liang played the match of her life, upstaging world No. 33 Tee Jing Yi 21-12, 22-20.
"My aim was to do whatever it took to get a point for us - when you're so focused like that, you can do special things," said the Xuzhou native, who was composed and confident enough to let some tight shots drop onto the out-court.
After Derek Wong and the men's duo of Chrisnanta and Chayut Triyachart had lost their respective ties, Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao earned a point for Singapore with a 21-9, 21-18 victory over Vivian Hoo and Woon Khe Wei.
It all came down to the mixed doubles where Malaysia's machismo trumped Singapore's spirit.
Still, after poor showings at last year's SEA Games and the Singapore Open had led to a coaching reshuffle, the Republic can take heart from pushing their Causeway rivals all the way.
A determined Neo said: "We've got to play out of our skins one more time.
"We came for a medal - now the bronze is what we want."
This article was first published on July 28, 2014.
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