SINGAPORE - Despite losing 21-15, 19-21, 21-14 to Japanese world No. 3 Akane Yamaguchi in the second round of the Indonesia Open on Thursday (Nov 25), the Republic's top female shuttler Yeo Jia Min had good reason to be upbeat.
The world No. 18 has done enough to become the first Singaporean to qualify for the season-ending Badminton World Federation World Tour Finals. The event will also be held at the Bali International Convention Centre from Dec 1-5.
The US$1.5 million (S$2.05 million) World Tour Finals will feature the top eight singles and doubles players with the most BWF World Tour points in a calendar year.
Following a string of fine results that include a runner-up finish at the BWF World Tour Super 500 Hylo Open in Germany, which also led to her career-high world ranking, Yeo is projected to finish ninth on the Road to Bali rankings.
With each country allowed to field a maximum of only two players at the World Tour Finals, the 22-year-old will move past two of the four Thais ahead of her in the rankings to qualify as the seventh seed.
There are no more players left in the ongoing US$850,000 Indonesia Open, which is a tier below the Finals, who can overtake Yeo in the rankings.
She told The Straits Times: "I didn't know I was the first Singaporean to do so. I'm grateful for this chance and I will make use of it to improve even more."
Singapore Badminton Association chief executive officer Alan Ow said: "This is a fantastic achievement for Singapore badminton, and we are proud of Jia Min for creating history.
"Singapore has a lot of talented shuttlers. Hopefully Jia Min's feat inspires them and gives them confidence that we are able to compete on the world stage.
"Jia Min and (Loh) Kean Yew have gained valuable experience from the last Olympics and this can be seen in their recent performances. It is important that they keep up this level of consistency and keep improving as we work towards Paris 2024."
In the match against former world No. 1 Yamaguchi, Yeo overcame a scraped right knee to level the match with some good defence and deceptive shots after losing the opening game.
However, the 24-year-old Japanese stepped up a gear in the decider to avenge her defeat by Yeo at the 2019 World Championships and take a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head record.
Yeo, who collected a US$2,550 cheque, said: "My knee is okay, but it kept bleeding so they had to stop me a few times because blood is not allowed on court.
"Akane was just better in focus and consistency over the last few points. It's always disappointing not to get the win but I'm feeling positive and will keep finding things to improve on."
Nevertheless, she can reflect on a strong finish to a year in which she was disappointed not to have progressed further at the Tokyo Olympics after being eliminated at the group stage.
She said: "I think I overcame a mental barrier after the Olympics by acknowledging and facing my weaknesses to improve. It's been a year of growth where I'm not afraid to face challenges, and I'm thankful for the experiences and people supporting my journey.
"I just want to keep playing better in every game and do my best to win as many matches as I can at the World Tour Finals and (Dec 12-19) World Championships (in Spain)."