SINGAPORE - Even as the badminton world raves about the resurgence of Lin Dan and the redemption of world No. 1 Kento Momota, Indonesia's Jonatan Christie has achieved new milestones for himself in the past nine months with some impressive wins.
The 21-year-old Christie has beaten four out of the world's top five shuttlers - Momota, Shi Yuqi, Chou Tien-chen and Viktor Axelsen - in their most recent encounters.
Despite not winning a BWF Tour title yet, these victories coupled with his triumphs at the 2017 SEA Games and last year's Asian Games, have given him the belief that he belongs among badminton's elite.
"But I know I still need to work on consistency and self-confidence if I am to win on tour," the world No. 11 told The Straits Times on Tuesday (April 9). "Sometimes during the game, when you are down, it can be hard to have confidence. That is also why I'm training so hard to become better each day. I keep in my mind that someday, I will make Indonesia proud."
His fan base seems to be growing. At the Singapore Badminton Open press conference at Wisma Atria in the morning, a handful of supporters were seen waving newspaper clippings featuring him while one Indonesian was in tears after being selected to take a picture with Christie and the other badminton stars like Japan's Momota and women's world No. 6 P. V. Sindhu of India.
There are also times when Christie, who beat Momota and world No. 5 Axelsen at last week's Malaysia Open before losing to reigning Olympic champion Chen Long in the semi-finals, can appear too emotional.
Christie, once an aspiring swimmer before switching to badminton when he was seven because his father "did not want my skin colour to get any darker", was warned by the umpire for several delays. These were caused by his exuberant celebrations in between points, but denied mind games were part of his inventory.
He said: "They were not intentional, they just happened. They are all talented players and I'm fortunate to be able to play against them. I just want to enjoy this journey."
In a repeat of the 2017 SEA Games final, he faces Thailand's Khosit Phetpradab in the first round at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Wednesday while Momota, the 2015 champion here, opens his campaign against India's B. Sai Praneeth.
The 24-year-old Japanese and world champion said: "I won my first BWF Superseries title here in 2015, which was very memorable, and I want to try to win another one this year."
The tie of the first round though, sees two-time Olympic champion Lin, fresh off his victory last week in Kuala Lumpur, against 2017 world champion Axelsen.
Singapore shuttler Yeo Jia Min is also targeting a strong run here. She reached the second round last year and hopes to become the first Singaporean to make it to the quarter-finals in seven years.
The 20-year-old former world junior No. 1, who takes on Indonesia's Ruselli Hartawan, said: "I have had more time in the past year to work with my coach and new training styles. I hope to progress more this year. Each opponent is different and I will try to focus more on my own play and do my best."
The journey is over though for the Republic's top male Loh Kean Yew. He was beaten by Hong Kong's Lee Cheuk Yiu 21-16, 21-17 in the men's singles qualifiers on Tuesday.