SINGAPORE - Entering a match with a losing record against an opponent who happens to be the two-time defending world champion might have fazed a lesser athlete, but national silat exponent Nurul Suhaila Mohd Saiful was relishing the prospect of a re-match with Indonesia's Selly Andriani on Saturday (Dec 15).
And that excitement was not in vain, for the Singaporean avenged her two previous losses to the Indonesian, defeating the latter 4-1 at the OCBC Arena to reach the Class D (60-65kg) final of the 18th World Pencak Silat Championship which will be held on Sunday.
Selly had denied Suhaila gold in the final of the 2015 World Championship, and defeated the Singaporean again in the semi-final of the same tournament the following year.
Reflecting on those losses, Suhaila described herself as "a different fighter entering the arena" on Saturday.
"I implemented a lot more take-downs today and I was a lot more confident and composed," added the 23-year-old, who shed tears of joy after her win. "This is quite an emotional win for me... I'm really so happy and proud of myself."
She believes being awarded the Sports Excellence (spex) scholarship for a second year has contributed to her improvement in skill and boost in confidence.
Suhaila added: "She was the world champion for two years, but when I entered the arena I kept telling myself, 'This is my year and this is my home ground, so what better time to do it than now?'"
She also explained how she reminded herself to stay composed in the final round despite being "eager to finish it".
"Every time I felt my mind (losing focus) a little bit, I would get back into it," she said. "I do a lot of self-talk in the arena. I'm always telling myself to stay focused, don't hold back, be careful, focus on the techniques... When I entered the arena today, I kept telling myself that I have nothing to lose, and this is now or never."
She will face Thailand's Janejira Wankrue for her first world title in the final, while team-mate Sheik Farhan Sheik Alau'ddin is seeking to celebrate his 21st birthday in style with a third world title.
Said Farhan, who beat Britain's Djibrill Aoudou 5-0 in the Class J (90-95kg) semi-final: "I feel (my performance) yesterday was more tactically sound (but) ultimately it was a good performance with not many mistakes.
"I don't feel pressure... in my mind I'm just fighting that one person for that round, and then getting to the next stage. I'm not thinking that I am the defending champion and I have to win."
To the two-time Class J world champion, what is significant about the final is that seven of his team-mates, including his older brother Ferdous, are competing in their respective finals as well.
In addition to Farhan, Suhaila and Ferdous (men's Class I 85-90kg), the other Singapore finalists are Hazim Mohd Yusli (men's Class B 50-55kg), Raaziq Abdul Rashid (men's Class G 75-80kg), Syakir Jeffry (men's Class H 80-85kg), Nur Syaza Insyirah Md Roslan (women's Class B 50-55kg) and Nor Shahidah Abas (women's Open, above 65kg).
Said Farhan: "What's significant is that this time there are more people to share (the experience) with... I'm very happy my team-mates are through and feeling confident."
Suhaila will no doubt be fuelled by her semi-final triumph.
Of the final, she said: "I'll bring a lot more enthusiasm and aggression. I feel like once I beat (Selly), I think nothing can stop me now."