Commonwealth Games: Badminton couple Hee and Tan a smash hit on and off court
The Straits Times profiles some of the 67 athletes representing Singapore in nine sports at the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
Like his trademark returns as one half of Singapore badminton's golden couple, Terry Hee has a sharp response to what advice he would give to other sporting couples who want to compete together.
"Don't (do it)," the 26-year-old deadpans, before he and his wife and mixed doubles partner Jessica Tan burst into laughter.
Tan, 28, adds: "Competing together shouldn't come at the expense of the relationship."
The duo know what they are talking about, for theirs is an uncommon union that has withstood the test of time on and off the court.
The pair first met when Hee enrolled in the Singapore Sports School on a scholarship at 13. Tan was 15 and it was not until a year later that sparks flew. Two rejections and three years later, they officially got together.
"We were playing singles matches against each other, and he always cheats my points," says Tan, whose older sisters Wei Wun and Wei Qi also used to be part of the national set-up.
Hee retorts: "That is what she likes to believe. I usually win 21-10, so I can even give her five points and still win."
Hee half-jokes that he liked the challenge of wooing an older girl, while Tan was eventually convinced he was serious after two years of courtship.
Off the court, as both made the transition from puppy love to an official item, and from singles to doubles on it, the national selectors were initially apprehensive about making them a mixed doubles duo.
But with Hee's former partner Fu Mingtian retiring in 2014 and Tan not making much headway in various pairings, the couple partnered for the first time at the 2014 Singapore International and went all the way to win their first international title.
Eight years on, neither the affectionate knee slaps nor the heated arguments have ceased.
Hee says: "In 2014, there was the novelty of playing together for the first time and no pressure like there is now. It can be difficult competing as a couple because there are things you cannot say because you don't want to hurt the other person's feelings.
"And sometimes, it is just that when someone close to you criticises you or gives you a suggestion, it is harder to accept than when a third party tells you."
Tan, the thoughtful perfectionist, has a feathered comeback. "I still feel it is rare and special that we can travel and compete together as one entity, and our understanding is there," she says. "He just needs one look and he knows if I'm confident or nervous and does his best to complement and motivate me.
"Yes, there are too many times when we argue not just on the court but take it back home. But we try to talk it out on the day itself and move on because ultimately, we recognise we have a common goal, which is to win together."
Their potential is evident in how they rose to world No. 15 in 2017. But Hee's National Service commitments and Tan's shoulder and knee surgeries put their partnership on hold as their rankings slipped to 808th.
But just three weeks after they got married last October, they won the lower-tier Czech Open, before picking up their biggest title - the Badminton World Federation World Tour Super 500 India Open - in January and the Super 100 Orleans Masters in April for their seventh title as a pair.
At the first round of the Super 1000 Indonesia Open in June, they held three match points against China's Olympic champions Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping before losing 13-21, 21-19, 26-24.
Hee, who claims he is the boss on the court but lets Tan run their household, says: "I really admire how my wife has not just come back from her injuries, but become even stronger than before and we are winning bigger tournaments.
"I feel it's the hunger we have that comes from being out of the game. It is quite hard for an athlete to keep training and not compete, so when we get the chance to compete again, we are very hungry."
Tan adds: "When the disruption stopped, we were really on fire, and wanted to prove a point. There are many who say that we may not have a long pathway at our age. We accept all the scepticism and criticism, and turn it into something positive... we hope to prove them wrong many more times."
Their short-term goal is to win a medal at the July 28-Aug 8 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and in the future they want to crack the top 10 and qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
For now, Tan wants to enjoy her second Commonwealth Games outing with her teammates. The team is close knit but her relationship with her mixed doubles and life partner is dearer, because "there is no one else than Terry I would rather do this with".
To which the mischievous Hee replies: "Because you know I'm the best."
Team Singapore's shuttlers at the Commonwealth Games:
- Loh Kean Yew (men's singles, mixed team)
- Jason Teh (men's singles, mixed team)
- Yeo Jia Min (women's singles, mixed team)
- Jaslyn Hooi (women's singles, mixed team)
- Terry Hee (men's doubles, mixed doubles, mixed team)
- Loh Kean Hean (men's doubles, mixed team)
- Jin Yujia (women's doubles, mixed doubles mixed team)
- Crystal Wong (women's doubles, mixed team)
- Andy Kwek (mixed doubles, mixed team)
- Jessica Tan (mixed doubles, mixed team)