Home boost crucial in chase for Olympic spot

(From left) Liang Xiaoyu, Derek Wong, national chief coach Chua Yong Joo, Vanessa Neo and Danny Bawa Chrisnanta during a pre-tournament press conference at Mandarin Orchard ahead of the OUE Singapore Open.
(From left) Liang Xiaoyu, Derek Wong, national chief coach Chua Yong Joo, Vanessa Neo and Danny Bawa Chrisnanta during a pre-tournament press conference at Mandarin Orchard ahead of the OUE Singapore Open. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Home-ground advantage has always been an added push for mixed doubles pair Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Vanessa Neo, but rarely will it be needed more - or count for more - than at this week's OUE Singapore Open.

This is because the duo are chasing precious ranking points in their pursuit of a spot at this August's Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Said Neo: "This event is very important to us in terms of Olympic qualification.

"Knowing that your parents and friends are there watching gives you an extra boost. Hopefully, we'll be able to perform even better to push ourselves further."

Ranked No. 28, the duo need to overtake Thailand's Bodin Issara and Savitree Amitrapai (No. 17), the next higher-ranked Asian pair to earn a debut at the Olympics.

Less-than-ideal results in the last few months have seen the Singaporeans' world ranking take a tumble, but they are renewed with confidence after beating world No. 8 and All-England champions Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto of Indonesia last week.

Said Neo: "We weren't performing up to standards, but (that win) gave us a boost. (We) realised we do have the standard and ability to compete with world-class players, and we are up there."

They open their campaign against Dutch pair Jacco Arends and Selena Piek this evening.

Added Danny: "Beating the Indonesians last week has proven that we can do it. (We) will focus on every point in every match. If we get a good result, it's a bonus."

But the focus remains on the process rather than the points at stake, as Neo explained: "You don't want to be distracted by counting the points. It's more important to concentrate on your game and how to beat your opponent."

The Singapore Badminton Association is fielding shuttlers in all five events at the tournament, with several younger players given the rare chance to play in a Superseries.

Said national chief coach Chua Yong Joo: "For them, the objective is to gain exposure against higher-ranked players. They usually play in lower-level competitions so this is an opportunity for them to see how they stand against others."

Women's singles player Liang Xiaoyu will play her opening match against China's defending champion Sun Yu. Said the world No. 42 Olympic hopeful: "She's a very strong player but I'm not going to go on court fearing my opponent.

"I'm not going to think of the fact that she's the defending champion - I just want to play every point well, and do what I'm capable of."

May Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Home boost crucial in chase for Olympic spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe