It was a battle that dragged on for almost four hours, and in the end, the hosts' men's badminton team were the ones feeling the pain at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last night.
Singapore lost 3-2 to Thailand in a tense and thrilling team semi-final and had to settle for a bronze medal, equalling their performance at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia - the last time badminton featured team events.
After the first four matches, the scores were level at 2-2, leaving 17-year-old Ryan Ng to face Suppanyu Avihingsanon, 25, for a spot in the final.
And the pressure proved too much for the teen, who fell 21-14, 21-11 to the Thai.
Visibly upset after the match, Ryan was on the verge of tears when he spoke about his performance.
"I was expecting to play because I knew we would have a tough fight against Thailand," he said. "But I failed to perform today.
"I'm very disappointed with how I played. I had a hard time controlling my emotions and nerves, so I couldn't execute my shots well.
"I know I still have a lot to improve on. This is my first time playing in the SEA Games, I'll train even harder for future tournaments."
Singapore started strongly, with captain Derek Wong, 26, putting the first point on the board after a 21-18, 21-19 upset win over Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, the defending men's singles champion and world No. 22.
The Thais claimed the next two matches as Bodin Issara and Nipitphon Puangpuapech beat Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Chayut Triyachart 21-11, 22-20 in the first doubles before two-time Singapore Open champion Boonsak Ponsana trumped Loh Kean Yew 17-21, 21-18, 21-10 .
Singapore levelled things up in the second doubles as Terry Hee and Hendra Wijaya beat Sudket Prapakamol and Pakkawat Vilailak 21-19, 21-16.
Despite Ng's agonising loss in the deciding rubber, Wong was upbeat about the team's performance.
"I'm satisfied with our team's fighting spirit and how we went all out for every point," he said.
"We're a young team and (we're) still improving, so as the team captain, that's what I want to see."
Thailand's badminton coach, Sompol Kookasemkit, expressed surprise at Singapore's strong showing.
"We were lucky to win," he conceded. "Singapore's team were very good and the match was very close.
"Singapore sent a lot of young players who did unexpectedly well, and they gave my experienced players a good fight. They have the potential to become high-level players in the future."
The other semi-final, which featured former world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, saw a similar scenario of a 17-year-old rookie squaring off with a 25-year-old with the scores tied at 2-2.
But this time around, Indonesian teen Ihsan Maulana Mustofa beat his more experienced opponent, Mohamad Arif Abdul Latif of Malaysia, 21-12, 22-20 to send his country through to the final.
Ratchanok romps, Thais triumph
Thailand's former badminton world champion Ratchanok Intanon and her teammates are on course to defend their SEA Games gold in the women's team event.
They trounced Singapore 3-0 in the semi-finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday, securing their spot in today's final against Malaysia.
Ratchanok (left), 20, grabbed an early lead for the Thais after vanquishing Singapore's Liang Xiaoyu 21-17, 21-14 in the first game.
"I was the first player and I wanted to get the early lead for Thailand so that the players after me would feel more confident," she said after the 37-minute match.
According to Ratchanok, the key to the Thais' powerful performance lies in their ability to dictate their opponents' style of play.
"My opponent had a good showing today, but, in the end, her problem was that I directed the shuttlecock in a way that would lead her to play in the style I wanted," she explained.
"I did that so that I would be able to control her performance."
The Thais are favourites to win the women's team event, having clinched the gold medal at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, where badminton team events were last contested.
Their hopes for gold are also boosted by the presence of world No. 5 Ratchanok.
At 18, she became the youngest world champion after defeating current world No. 3 Li Xuerui at the BWF World Championships in 2013.
When asked if she was confident about winning the team gold today, Ratchanok smiled and nodded.
But she will not be competing in the individual events as she will be flying to China to represent her club Qingdao Hezhan Renzhou in the Chinese Badminton Super League.
Ratchanok's teammates followed her win in the first singles with straight-set wins in the first doubles and second singles.
Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai beat Shinta Mulia Sari and Vanessa Neo 21-12, 21-19 in 32 minutes to put Thailand 2-0 up, before Busanan Ongbumrungpan wrapped up proceedings dispatching Grace Chua 21-6, 21-15 in 27 minutes.
This article was first published on June 12, 2015.
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