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Silver lining for shuttler

The Straits Times | Sanjay Nair | Wednesday, Aug 6, 2014

Singapore shuttler Derek Wong plays against Parupalli Kashyap from India in the badminton Men's singles final at the Emirates Arena during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

The biggest mistake Derek Wong made yesterday was to apologise after an epic Commonwealth Games' men's singles final against India's Parupalli Kashyap.

The Singaporean lost 14-21, 21-11, 19-21 but he was no loser.

While it was not the gold medal that he and the Republic's shuttlers desired, history was made nonetheless.

The silver seemed like scant consolation to the 25-year-old who will still go down in Singapore's sporting history as the first men's singles medallist at the quadrennial showpiece.

After two games where the duo exchanged smashes, unforced errors and repeatedly clipped the net, the score was tied 19-19 in the winner-takes-all third game.

Kashyap's class showed as he played an exquisite smash followed by an angle-defying drop shot to become India's first men's singles champion since 1982.

After his loss, a disconsolate Wong said: "Those are the points that define a career and he took it.

"I was a bit too cautious like in the first set. It's a painful lesson to learn - I'm really sorry."

The sell-out crowd at the Emirates Arena were on the edge of their seats towards the end of the 61-minute tie.

Pockets of India supporters were mouthing silent prayers while Wong's fiancee Vanessa Neo - also a national player - was barely able to watch, closing her eyes at crucial points.

Proud father Wong Shoon Keat, the 1983 SEA Games men's champion, watched the clash with friends and family at the Singapore Badminton Hall.

He said: "Derek lost out quite a bit at the net but to get so far is good for Singapore badminton.

"We haven't had results like this for a while - it shows that there's still life in badminton."

There was a point when the younger Wong seemed like staging a second incredible comeback in as many days. A day earlier, he won six straight points en route to knocking out India's R.V. Gurusaidutt in the semi-finals.

This time, after being brushed aside by his adversary's sleek net play early on, Wong upped his speed and attacked to gain a stranglehold.

The Indian, the bronze medallist in New Delhi four years ago, admitted to being "too tense", adding: "In my mind, I believed I could win easily because I didn't think he could play such a good game so I wasn't ready because in my mind I had already won."

It spurred the world No. 21, who is coached by former All-England champion Pullela Gopichand, back into action - and into India's own history books.

As for Wong, he has a new individual medal to add to a bronze won in the 2011 SEA Games.

More importantly, there is a belief that the round-of-16 exits that have come to define his major tournament outings are a thing of the past.

He said: "I feel like a different Derek Wong now.

"If I bring this confidence to the Asian Games and the SEA Games, I know there's more medals to come for me."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by May Chen

This article was published on Aug 4 in The Straits Times.


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