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Out to make the most of her Olympic stop

Passion rekindled, shuttler Gu Juan aims for at least the quarter-finals. -TNP
Lim Say Heng

Tue, Jul 24, 2012
The New Paper

Those who have caught shuttler Gu Juan in action will describe her playing style as somewhat languid.

Correcting that aspect of her game could be the key for the 22-year-old to move into the world's top 10.

Gu Juan, currently the world No. 17, will fly Singapore's flag in the women's singles at the 2012 Olympic Games.

She offered a straightforward assessment of the state of her game, when she told The New Paper recently: "My performances were quite good for the first three months this year, but I seemed to have reached a plateau after that.

"I need to work on my on-court fighting spirit. I will display that trait sometimes in matches, but I can't seem to be able to sustain it.

"Perhaps my will to win points is not that strong and sometimes against stronger opponents, I will lose quickly after trailing instead of giving them a tough fight."

Gu Juan reached a high of world No. 16 in May.

She is hoping for a breakthrough at the Games in London from July 27 to Aug 12.

The Singapore Badminton Association selectors picked the 1.60m-tall shuttler ahead of South-east Asia (SEA) Games women's singles champion Fu Mingtian for the sole Olympic women's singles slot.

Of the selection, Gu Juan said: "My ranking then was a lot better than Mingtian's, so I don't feel lucky at all.

"Even though she won the SEA Games, my performances in tournaments after that were better than how I did last year."

Like her counterpart in the men's singles Derek Wong, Gu Juan never thought she would play in the Olympics.

She arrived in Singapore in 2003 under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme and took up citizenship in June 2007. She gave up the sport to return to Shanghai for studies a year later.

But, 16 months later, she made a U-turn after realising she still had a passion for the game.

She said: "Before coming back in 2009, badminton was just a phase in my life but not my livelihood.

"But now that it has become my full-time job, and we all have targets in our jobs - mine was to make the Olympics.

"Half the reason behind my comeback was to try to qualify for the Games, the other half was that I wanted to continue to play since it was a pity to stop playing.

"I am glad to be able to make it in time for this Olympics."

She is aiming for at least a quarter-final finish in London.

Gu Juan reached the last eight in last year's All-England Championships, beating the then-world No. 8 Bae Youn Joo of South Korea along the way, but Singapore's top women's singles player has never won a tournament at any level before.

She said: "It does bother me a little, but I won't be thinking about this during competitions. "I will make a breakthrough sooner or later, as long as I continue to work hard everyday in training."

Gu Juan adopts a philosophical approach when it comes to her lack of tournament wins, possibly through work with a sports psychologist.

"Results are a manifestation of your process, but it's not as if you will win tomorrow if you do well in practice today," she mused.

"I've changed a little in terms of my fighting spirit since the start of the year.

"Sometimes I do fight back when I am trailing by a lot to an opponent who is of the same standard or slightly better."

By her own admission, these Olympic Games will be another stepping stone for her as she plots her badminton future.

"With the kind of experience I will gain, I will become more confident," she said.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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