Shuttlers in Tokyo stint ahead of Rio

Superseries Finals champion Nozomi Okuhara demands a lot of herself in training and plays just like in competition, says Singapore women's singles player Liang Xiaoyu.
Superseries Finals champion Nozomi Okuhara demands a lot of herself in training and plays just like in competition, says Singapore women's singles player Liang Xiaoyu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Five national players get to train with Japanese stars in two-week camp as part of Unisys tie-up

There are still four more months before qualification is finalised, while the Olympics are not until August, but Singapore shuttlers have already begun playing the long game for the Rio Games this year.

Five national shuttlers - Derek Wong, Vanessa Neo, Danny Bawa Chrisnanta, Liang Xiaoyu and Yeo Jia Min - are in Tokyo on a two-week centralised training camp with some of Japan's national badminton players.

The stint, a partnership with IT company Unisys' stable of players, offers the Singaporeans a chance to spar against, train with and learn from some of the world's elite like women's singles world No. 7 Nozomi Okuhara.

Other players include women's singles world No. 16 Sayaka Takahashi, men's doubles No. 6 Hiroyuki Endo and Kenichi Hayakawa and 2014 Thomas Cup hero Takuma Ueda (No. 32).

National chief coach Chua Yong Joo said the camp is part of efforts to prepare players with Olympic potential for the Games in August, while grooming younger ones like 16-year-old Jia Min by giving them a chance to see what training with some of the top players is like.

TOP PACE

The players really are fully focused and go all out during training and that's one thing we can learn from them.

DEREK WONG, Singapore's highest-ranked men's singles player, on the intensity of training sessions in Japan

He told The Straits Times yesterday in a phone interview from Tokyo: "How the Japanese players approach training, their attitudes - these are all things our players can learn."

Japan's shuttlers have been on a steady rise in recent years. Besides lifting the Thomas Cup in 2014, the country has also produced a strong squad of women's singles players, with six currently placed among the world's top 20.

Last month, Japan also made history by capturing both the men's singles (won by Kento Momota) and women's singles titles (won by Okuhara) at the season-ending Superseries Finals in Dubai.

Already, even with just three days' training, Singapore's shuttlers have experienced first hand what makes the Japanese a force to reckon with.

Liang, the world No. 43, said of Okuhara: "Her speed, the quality of her shots, it's all as if she were playing in a real match. She demands a lot from herself in training.

"Their training plan is also somewhat different from what we're used to. Hopefully it will help to raise our standards and be beneficial when we go for future tournaments."

Since both singles and doubles players train together, men's singles player Wong has been able to get a taste of playing against doubles players in training.

Said the 2012 Olympian, now ranked No. 39: "The doubles style is much faster so that's something different. The players really are fully focused and go all out during training and that's one thing we can learn from them."

With Singapore hoping to qualify for the men's singles, women's singles and mixed doubles events for the Olympics, plans for more of such partnerships are afoot.

Said Chua: "We are exploring to have more tie-ups with the Unisys team in the coming months and are currently in discussions. We'll see if their team will come over to Singapore or we can go over."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2016, with the headline 'SHUTTLERS IN TOKYO STINT AHEAD OF RIO'. Print Edition | Subscribe