July winner: Yeo Jia Min

Making a smashing return

Singapore's Yeo Jia Min at the Vietnam Open Grand Prix last month, where she claimed her maiden professional title. She will soon be back in action at the India Junior International Badminton Championships in September.
Singapore's Yeo Jia Min at the Vietnam Open Grand Prix last month, where she claimed her maiden professional title. She will soon be back in action at the India Junior International Badminton Championships in September.PHOTO: COURTESY OF TRUNG HO

Shuttler recovers strongly from ill-fated 2015 to clinch first professional singles title

Singapore badminton player Yeo Jia Min, 17, went through such a rough patch last year that she felt compelled to apologise for something that was neither her mistake nor her fault.

She was forced to miss two major events - the SEA Games on home soil, in which she was selected to be one of two women's singles representatives for Singapore, and the World Junior Championships due to injury and illness respectively.

The setbacks affected her so much that she said sorry - for no reason.

Yeo recounted: "I was really disappointed with myself and I felt like I had let others down."

When Yeo cried after the doctor told her that she had to miss making her debut at the SEA Games after hurting her right knee, it pained her mother, Judy Wong, to see her only daughter crestfallen.

STRONGER THAN BEFORE

It has strengthened my faith in God and taught me to deal with setbacks positively and with an open mind.

YEO JIA MIN, Singapore shuttler, on dealing with an injury and illness-plagued 2015.

Wong, a 53-year-old lawyer, said: "She said sorry and as a mother, it pains my heart to see her like this. I told her I'm more concerned that she recovers, get well, and enjoy the game."

Though disheartened, the teenager refused to wallow in self-pity.

Yeo, who started playing badminton since Primary 2, never thought of giving up the sport she loves. She transferred from Nanyang Girls' High School to Singapore Sports School (SSP) - where the national team used to train - while she was midway through Secondary 1.

By experiencing and struggling through these lows in her career, the youngster matured in three areas: Her Christian faith, her mental frame as an elite athlete, as well as her game.

Yeo said: "It has strengthened my faith in God and taught me to deal with setbacks positively and with an open mind."

While her parents have observed that "something in her game just clicked this year", national chief coach Chua Yong Joo noted: "Her shots are more consistent, she makes fewer unforced errors, and shots in her returns are able to force opponents out of their positions."

Now that she is training full time, she has more time to properly cool down after training sessions and just to relax.

In previous years, she had to rush straight after the end of her training at about 5pm from the Singapore Sports Hub back to the SSP in Woodlands, where she has night classes until 9pm.

So it did not take long for her hard work to bear fruit this year. She claimed her first professional singles title at the Vietnam Open Grand Prix last month, a clear indication that she has put past setbacks behind her.

Her victory in Ho Chi Minh City earned her The Straits Times' Star of the Month for July. It is the second time she had won the accolade.

Last October, she was feted for winning both the singles and doubles titles at the Badminton Asia Under-17 Junior Championships.

And she will be back in action at the Sept 1-4 India Junior International Badminton Championships.

Said ST sports editor Marc Lim: "We're glad to see Jia Min's progress. The transition from junior to senior level is often tricky for many athletes but we are heartened to see her make the transition rather smoothly.

"We hope that this will be a prelude to what we can expect from her in the years to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Making a smashing return'. Print Edition | Subscribe