After roller-coaster year, Singapore’s badminton doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan gear up for Olympics, Latest Team Singapore News - The New Paper
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After roller-coaster year, Singapore’s badminton doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan gear up for Olympics

Never mind qualifying for the Olympics, national badminton mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan could not even string together back-to-back wins for most of 2023.

Following a breakthrough 2022 in which they claimed the India Open and Orleans Masters crowns, Commonwealth Games gold, and rose to a career-high world No. 13, the duo won just three out of nine matches in their first six tournaments of 2023. They could not get past the round of 16 and their ranking slipped to 33rd.

After the Paris 2024 Olympics qualification period began on May 1, 2023, they won only one of their next nine matches.

Tan, who barely had time to mourn her mother’s death in the first quarter of 2023, said: “It was extremely stressful to an unhealthy extent in the first half of the year due to pressure, expectations, failures and family loss. We want to make the Olympics so much that we put everything on the line and struggled with having our mindset in the right place.”

But national doubles head coach Paulus Firman kept his faith in the married couple’s abilities. He also got them to play in lower-tier tournaments to help restore their confidence and get their Olympic qualifying campaign back on track.

The Indonesian said: “They put so much pressure on themselves, they couldn’t play freely, so we tried to take this pressure off them with this move. We also worked with them individually – with Jessica on her front-court and defence, and with Terry on his physical and mental aspects – and they started to combine better.”

Though they had to put up with poor court and hotel conditions in India and deal with errant line calls without the aid of Hawkeye at these smaller events, the plan worked a treat. They made the finals at the Abu Dhabi and Odisha Masters, and won the Irish Open and Guwahati Masters in the last quarter of the year.

The haul of points are included in their 10 best results used in the Race to Paris rankings, lifting Hee and Tan to the 13th and final Olympic spot for now – there are also three continental spots for America, Africa and Oceania. Only 16 doubles pairs get a ticket to Paris 2024, compared to 38 entries for the singles.

Tan said: “It’s a huge relief and affirmation when we started winning again, and we are also encouraged by our positive performances and individual improvements on court.”

With their world ranking rebounding to No. 22, they are back in the big tournaments again, starting with the Jan 9-14 Malaysia Open, a Super 1000 event where they face Taiwanese world No. 12 Ye Hong-wei and Lee Chia-hsin in the first round.

In 2024, they have a maximum of 10 events up to April 30 to fight for Olympic qualifying points and Paulus has set them a target of consistent top-eight finishes.

They also have a big decision to make with the prestigious All England Open and the lower-tier Orleans Masters both held from March 12-17. The former offers more ranking points but with more players choosing to play there, the Orleans tournament could be a better alternative.

In any case, Hee and Tan will start the year with renewed confidence after finishing 2023 on a strong note – since the Hong Kong Open in September, they have not lost in the first round and managed 24 wins from 32 matches.

Some of their notable performances included outplaying former world champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai before the Thais retired due to injury, and narrow losses to Denmark’s world No. 10 Mathias Christiansen and Alexandra Boje, and South Korean world champions Seo Seung-jae and Chae Yu-jung.

Hee said: “The main difference is their ability to perform consistently in high-intensity, high-pressure scenarios. We may tense up at 19-19, but they are able to play as if it were 0-0.

“They are human and will make mistakes too, but they have enough big-match experience to be able to turn things around when the opportunity arises. This is what we learnt and are trying to develop for our own game.”

Into their 10th year as a mixed doubles pair, the former primary school sprinters are gearing up for a mighty dash to the finish.

Tan said: “We started to believe the Olympics is achievable since we first partnered and won the Singapore International in 2014. We have a realistic chance but it is extremely competitive. These last four months of Olympic qualification are extremely crucial and we will give it our all and hope for the best.”

OlympicsOLYMPICS 2024badmintonTeam Singapore