Badminton: Junior shuttler on top of the world

Fleet-footed Yeo Jia Min (right) comparing the sole of her shoes with assistant national singles coach Fu Mingtian during a training session at OCBC Arena yesterday. Her speed is one of her biggest assets.
Fleet-footed Yeo Jia Min (right) comparing the sole of her shoes with assistant national singles coach Fu Mingtian during a training session at OCBC Arena yesterday. Her speed is one of her biggest assets.ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

S'pore's world No. 1 junior not focused on rankings but improvement

Congratulations have flowed from team-mates and coaches. There has even been some teasing from friends about her new status.

But as national shuttler Yeo Jia Min walked into the OCBC Arena for training as the newly-minted world No. 1 junior yesterday, she made sure none of the usual drills over a three-hour training session changed.

If anything, the soft-spoken and fleet-footed player was only more aware of the pressing need to do better and aim for more.

The 18-year-old became Singapore's first top-ranked badminton player - junior or senior, singles or doubles - when the latest world rankings were released by the Badminton World Federation on Thursday.

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But with just six months of eligibility left in junior events - they are meant for those aged 19 and below - she has already turned her focus to the senior circuit.

"I don't really plan on taking part in (many) more junior tournaments," she told The Straits Times after training yesterday.

The Asia Junior Championships next month and the World Junior Championships in October - both in Indonesia - will be her last two junior tournaments.

MAKING THE STEP UP

Senior competitions require (us to be) more tactical, patient, and consistent. (Success) can't be achieved without a certain level of speed and fitness.

'' YEO JIA MIN, the world No. 1 junior, on the difference between senior and youth competitions and what it takes to do well at the highest level.

She added: "I cannot be focusing on the rewards, the rankings - I have to think about the now."

Moving to the senior circuit, where she is ranked world No. 62, will mean facing the giants of the sport.

Doing well at youth level has not always guaranteed glory at the biggest stages, even though numerous shuttlers have turned their potential into success.

Yeo rattled off a few names, including Japan's Akane Yamaguchi, a two-time world junior champion ranked No. 4 in the world at just 19 years old.

Singapore's No. 2 - behind world No. 28 Liang Xiaoyu - is relishing the challenge ahead.

"Senior competitions require (us to be) more tactical, patient, and consistent. (Success) can't be achieved without a certain level of speed and fitness," she said before her next tournament, the Australian Open in Sydney that starts on June 20.

"Everyone peaks at different times. Now it's Tai Tzu-ying (Chinese Taipei, 22)," she said of the world No. 1.

"A while ago it was (world champion) Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand, 22), and then (Olympic champion) Carolina Marin (Spain, 23).

"I don't think 'they peaked at a certain time so I have to do it too'. I just go with the flow, constantly do what I need to do.

"I'm quite happy with my progress in training and I can't wait to go on court and see how the training has been working."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu also lauded Yeo yesterday. She posted a congratulatory note on her Facebook page, saying: "Very proud that our Team Singapore youth shuttler Yeo Jia Min is now the world's No. 1 junior badminton player...

"Her sporting achievements at this young age (are) commendable, through her hard work and a good support system... I hope more youth athletes will be inspired by Jia Min's achievements. We will continue to support our aspiring talents, and nurture the next generation of sporting champions for Singapore!"

While Yeo, who has been training as a full-time player since the middle of last year, places little emphasis on numbers and rankings, the figures do provide affirmation.

She said: "It's encouragement to see that I'm on the right track. It's proof that Singapore badminton can also do well on the world circuit."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Yeo's sole aim is to succeed at senior level'. Print Edition | Subscribe