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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Sports

C'wealth Games: This time, shuttlers prevail

The New Paper | Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Singapore's Lei Yao (top R) plays a shot besides her doubles partner Shinta Mulia Sari (C) against India's Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta in the Mixed Team event at the Emirates Arena at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on July 28, 2014. Singapore won the match 3-2 to win the bronze medal.

This time there was to be no last-minute capitulation, only late celebrations as Singapore's shuttlers beat India 3-2 to win a Commonwealth Games bronze medal in the mixed teams event at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, last night.

Never mind that Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei required seven match-points in their deciding women's doubles match against Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa to win 21-17, 29-27 and seal the deal, the fact is the team won just the second medal for the Republic in the event - after the silver in 2002 - since badminton was introduced at the Games in 1966.

"It was another tough fight and it was such a hard-earned victory," said national badminton coach Liu Qingdong, after guiding the fourth seeds to victory over the Indians, who were ranked third.

The 44-year-old was referring to Sunday's heartbreaking defeat by Malaysia in the semi-finals, when his shuttlers took the top seeds to the wire, going down 3-2 in just over four hours.

After watching his charges emerge victorious after three hours and 28 minutes of exciting action, Liu added: "We should have progressed to the final, but we didn't. And we had to ensure we walked out of our disappointment.

"The technical team encouraged the players and our preparations for this bronze-medal match were good."

Liu felt the result was proof of the steady improvement the Republic's shuttlers have made since a January revamp, which the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) felt was necessary after a string of poor results.

He said: "Maybe some people would have doubts when I said we would win something at the Commonwealth Games. I put pressure on myself too when I said that.

"But this bronze medal does not belong to me. It is a testament to all the hard work put in by SBA president (Lee Yi Shyan), CEO (Ronnie Lim), director of team administration (Chew Keet Hou), director of team performance (Chua Yong Joo) and the players."

Danny Chrisnanta and Vanessa Neo got Singapore off to a good start by winning the team's first point, seeing off R V Gurusaidutt and Ponnappa 21-19, 21-19 in a tense mixed doubles encounter.

Liu then fielded a surprise pick by deploying Huang Chao instead of the Republic's No. 1 men's single player, Derek Wong, to take on Kashyap Parupalli.

Despite a valiant attempt in the second set, Huang lost 15-21, 20-22.

Chrisnanta returned to the court to claim another point, this time partnering Chayut Triyachart to ease past Akshay Dewalkar and Pranav Chopra 21-12, 21-16 in the men's doubles.

Surprise

Arguably one of the biggest surprises of this badminton tournament, Liang Xiaoyu put in another strong performance but could not pull off another upset, with world No. 11 P V Sindhu squaring the tie up with a 24-22, 21-13 win.

Up stepped Shinta and Yao to finish off the tie.

At press time, Malaysia were taking on England for the gold medal.

Singapore's resilient showing bodes well for the upcoming singles and double events, in which Liu tipped Shinta and Yao, and Chrisnanta and Neo, as the Republic's best bet for badminton gold in Glasgow.

"We lost to them (Gutta and Ponnappa) in the women's doubles final at the last Commonwealth Games, so beating the champions here was some form of revenge, and it will do us good in terms of confidence and morale," said Yao.

"There will be strong competitors from India, England and Scotland, but we want the gold medal. That's what we came here for."

davidlee@sph.com.sg

This article was published on July 29 in The New Paper.

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