BIRMINGHAM - Bleary-eyed and exhausted after a restless night spent tossing and turning in bed, mixed doubles pair and married couple Terry Hee and Jessica Tan were certainly not in prime condition ahead of their biggest match at the Commonwealth Games.
Standing between them and a first-ever mixed doubles gold for Singapore were their semi-final rivals, Malaysian top seeds Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing.
And it took a huddle for the pair to re-energise and psyche themselves up as they stormed to a 25-23, 21-18 victory over their higher-ranked opponents on Sunday (Aug 7) to secure a medal and book a spot in the final.
Holding back tears in the post-match interview, an emotional Tan said: “Before the match was really tough... we both couldn’t sleep at night because too many thoughts were creeping in.
“It was very hard to think about how the match would turn out.”
While world No. 35 Hee and Tan had beaten the 11th-ranked Malaysian duo in their previous two encounters, they last met six years ago and the Singaporeans knew they had to bring their A game. Over the course of 56 minutes, supporters from both teams were treated to a badminton thriller at the National Exhibition Centre.
Although Malaysia started strongly, Hee and Tan dug deep to claw back from five points down to get back into the game. They then held their nerve to win the first set 25-23.
The combination of Hee’s aggressiveness and Tan’s superb defence saw the Singaporeans take a 14-8 lead in the second game against their rivals, who looked hapless after the first game.
Despite a late charge from the Malaysians as they rescued three match points, Hee and Tan held on, sinking to the ground in celebration as they notched victory in Birmingham.
The Republic’s previous best result in the event was a bronze at the 2006 and 2010 editions of the Games.
But the duo can go even further on Monday (Aug 8), when they take on home favourites Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith in the final – victory will give Singapore its first Games gold since Li Li’s women’s singles title in Manchester in 2002.
The odds may appear to be in Hee and Tan’s favour as they beat the world No. 10 English pair in the group stage of the mixed team event, but the Singaporeans are not getting ahead of themselves.
Hee said: “It means a lot (to reach the final) because we’ve worked very hard for it and it’s a dream come true. But the job is not done yet – tomorrow we have a final match and we need to keep our focus, regroup and hope for the best. The pressure is always there for each match that we play but it all boils down to our performance on the day itself, who can manage the nerves better.”
Singapore Badminton Association technical director Martin Andrew hailed the duo’s performance and insisted that it is anyone’s game. He said: “The English are very good in the first three, four shots, so we have to match them on the quality on that, which we did for the team event.
“We’re better on the attack, with Terry and his speed so we’re good on that. We’re probably a bit better on the defence as well because (Tan) holds her own there, but we have to make sure we control all areas of the court.”
Teammates Yeo Jia Min and Jason Teh also fought valiant battles in their respective women’s and men’s singles semi-finals but instead had to contest for a bronze after losing yesterday.
Yeo was beaten 21-19, 21-17 by India’s world No. 7 P.V. Sindhu and played Scotland’s defending bronze medallist Kirsty Gilmour.
She said: “There’s definitely still a gap between me and the top players... But I’m trying to reflect on every match and I prepared much better for this match so hopefully I can keep up the momentum and do even better the next time.”
World No. 87 Teh, who fell 21-10, 18-21, 21-16 to India’s second seed and 10th-ranked Lakshya Sen, was due to face Sen’s teammate Srikanth Kidambi in the third-place play-off. He said: “I just want to leave everything on the court in my last match at the Games.”