Young shuttlers to chart future

Young shuttlers to chart future
New Men's team to represent Singapore in Thomas Cup Finals
Singapore shuttler Ashton Chen was eliminated in the men's singles qualifying rounds of the OUE Singapore Open yesterday, but is still in the men's doubles main draw with Robin Gonansa

SINGAPORE - A new-look national men's badminton team will represent Singapore when the Republic compete next month in the Thomas Cup finals for the first time since 1986.

Young shuttlers including singles player Sean Lee, 20, and doubles player Terry Hee, 19, are likely to be given an opportunity to step up a notch at the May 18-25 tournament in New Delhi, after senior players Ashton Chen and Terry Yeo recently left the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA).

While the squad has not been finalised, SBA national team director Chew Keet Hou told The Straits Times that the prestigious world team championships for men is a good chance to begin grooming the next generation of players.

"We will talk to the coaches to decide who will be the best to compete but we will be looking to groom this batch for next year's SEA Games," he added.

ST understands that plans are also under way for singles specialists Robin Gonansa and Loh Kean Yew and doubles player Loh Kean Hean to attain citizenship ahead of the June 5-16 biennial Games next year.

Indonesia-born Gonansa, 23, came to Singapore in 2008.

The Loh brothers, who are aged 19 and 17, hold Malaysian passports but are Singapore permanent residents and have studied here.

National head coach Liu Qingdong is fairly confident that this new batch of players, while still young and inexperienced, could soon mature into stars.

He said: "Our younger players right now definitely still have some way to go before they can catch up to the standards of players like Ashton and Derek but we need to start giving them chances. "They have already shown glimpses of potential and I'm sure, given time, they will get much better."

Sean, for instance, got to the final round of qualifiers at the ongoing OUE Singapore Open, where he put in a creditable performance against former world No. 3 and two-time SEA Games champion Simon Santoso of Indonesia before losing 21-6, 24-22.

Terry Hee also partnered Fu Mingtian to make it to the main draw of the mixed doubles at the SuperSeries event.

Said Sean: "It's always been a dream for me to represent Singapore but I still need to improve on my mental strength and tactics."

Singapore's No. 1 Derek Wong, a 2012 Olympian, will also shoulder the expectation of heading the team's renewal, both in terms of results and leadership.

Said Chew: "With Derek becoming more consistent in his performance and starting to beat players ranked above him, hopefully, we can build on this and go back to the days of Ronald Susilo and Kendrick Lee.

"Derek's been the captain for the past few years and he's already taken up a leadership role for a while so the younger ones do look up to him, but we need to get back to having an icon."

This article was published on April 11 in The Straits Times.

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