Chrisnanta & Neo keep faith with each other

SINGAPORE - They may have broken into the world's top-10 rankings together but badminton mixed doubles pair Vanessa Neo and Danny Bawa Chrisnanta came close to taking a timeout from each other late last year.

Despite reaching No. 9 in February last year, they then suffered a string of early exits on the Badminton World Federation circuit.

By September, they felt that it might be time for a change.

"It wasn't just one competition that we didn't do well (in)," Chrisnanta, 25, told The Straits Times.

"We had already lost many chances. Sometimes, you can get good results by starting afresh with another partner."

But they eventually decided against it - and are now thankful that they persevered.

The pair, now world No. 18, upset world No. 7 duo Markis Kido and Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth of Indonesia to make the quarter-finals of the prestigious All England Championships last week.

They were beaten by eventual champions Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir of Indonesia, but not before forcing the reigning world champions to a rubber game.

They lost 21-12, 17-21, 21-12.

Said 26-year-old Neo: "Every pair has its ups and downs. It doesn't mean that you should split when you're down.

"I don't think that's the way."

But, while deciding they wanted to ride out the rough period together, the partners of three years were less sure about what to do to stem the slide.

They struggled to sustain the form that took them to the top 10 in February last year.

They played 16 events for the remainder of the year - excluding the mixed team competition Sudirman Cup - and were knocked out by the second round in 13 of them.

The only bright spot was a title in October at the Dutch Open, albeit a third-tier Grand Prix tournament.

Said Chrisnanta, who felt he hit rock-bottom at the SEA Games in December when the pair lost in straight games in their opening match: "Every time we went for a competition, everything just felt so hard.

"I didn't know why I couldn't play (well). We lost a lot of confidence."

Adapting to changes under new coach Yoo Yong Sung might have put a strain on the partnership, said Neo. The South Korean was hired early last year but left the Singapore set-up this year.

"A lot of changes had to be made, and we were lost," she said, noting that they had to get used to adjustments in court coverage and movement.

It is a theory that new head coach Liu Qingdong agrees with.

He said: "They had a good foundation under coach Yoo but probably had problems communicating with him, and with each other.

"They've now had a breakthrough psychologically.

"We'll continue to work on improving their tactics and technique when it comes to serving and receiving."

The duo now feel they are back on track, and are hoping to perform well at home at the OUE Singapore Open next month.

"So far, very good," said Chrisnanta.

"I feel we can work together as a team now and, hopefully, we can get better results again.

"I feel I have more belief in myself now and it motivates me to try harder because there are many competitions coming up."

Said Neo: "The All England is a prestigious event where all the world's top players compete.

"Being able to get to the last eight is definitely a booster.

"We hope this signals the start of good results for the rest of the year."

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