Commonwealth Games: Led by Loh Kean Yew, Singapore's badminton team on medal hunt
BIRMINGHAM - After returning from the Gold Coast four years ago with no medals for the first time this century, Singapore's badminton players are back at the Commonwealth Games determined bring home some silverware.
In 2018, they were a team in transition. Danny Bawa Chrisnanta was 29, the only shuttler over 25, and the lack of experience showed. The Republic lost the mixed team bronze medal playoff to England while there were quarter-final exits in the men's singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Four years later, the 10-member squad, half of whom are over 25, boasts higher pedigree. Loh Kean Yew is ninth in the world and the reigning world champion, Yeo Jia Min is world No. 19 while the men's and mixed doubles pairings are inside the top-50.
Loh, 25, said: "The hunger is always there. Winning medals for Singapore at any major Games has always been our goal and we hope to achieve that here."
Their campaign at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre starts on Friday (July 29) with the mixed team event. Singapore face Group 2 opponents Mauritius and Barbados, before taking on hosts England on Saturday.
Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) technical director Martin Andrew on Tuesday backed his players to secure a medal, possibly one with a hue brighter than bronze.
He said: "We have the players to go further than that, but bearing in mind that we are seeded fifth, if we come away with a medal, that would be good.
"We expect two wins against Mauritius and Barbados. We have the players to push fourth seeds England very, very closely. They are strong in the doubles, whereas we are stronger in the singles.
"If we win the group, we will likely avoid the other top-four seeds India, Malaysia and Canada in the quarter-finals, which is an advantage to reaching the semi-finals."
The individual events then start from next Wednesday, with Loh the highest-ranked men's player. Indians Lakshya Sen and Kidambi Srikanth are directly below him at world No. 10 and 11 respectively. Loh holds a 2-3 career record against Sen and is tied 1-1 with Srikanth.
Loh, who lost to eventual gold medallist Lee Chong Wei in the quarter-finals in 2018, said: "There's a lot more expectations from not just other people, but also from myself as I would like to do well too. The pressure will always be there, I just need to learn how to adapt and manage it."
Compatriot Yeo's path in the women's singles is more tricky. India's world No. 7 P. V. Sindhu is the clear favourite, while medal contenders include Canada's 2014 champion Michelle Li (13th) and Scotland's 18th-ranked Kristy Gilmour.
But Yeo, 23, felt that after recovering from a calf injury, she is rediscovering the levels that helped her reach the prestigious BWF World Tour Finals last year.
She said: "I was competing every other week and I felt I was not really at my best, and it lasted for a while. Now I'm improving again... I'm getting my condition back and I'm ready for the Games."
The squad spent a week in Copenhagen where they trained with Denmark's top players such as Viktor Axelsen, Line Christophersen, Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen.
SBA's Andrew felt they benefited from the high-quality environment where the drills were shorter and sharper even though the two-hour duration is same as the sessions back home.
While he acknowledged a podium finish would be tough for his doubles pairings due to the strength of India, Malaysia, England, Scotland and Canada, he challenge the entire squad to spring a surprise.
He added: "I'm confident if our players can perform round after round, they can do some damage."