Badminton: Tai Tzu-ying up for bigger challenge

Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying in action at the Dubai World Superseries Finals. She won her first tournament as world No. 1 in last December's season finale and has insisted that she "doesn't feel much different" since ascending to the top ranking.
Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying in action at the Dubai World Superseries Finals. She won her first tournament as world No. 1 in last December's season finale and has insisted that she "doesn't feel much different" since ascending to the top ranking.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

World No. 1 seeks redemption at S'pore Open but wants to face rivals with a relaxed mindset

Tai Tzu-ying's last memory of the OUE Singapore Open is a bitter one, as an unexpected loss in her opening match meant she was booted out of the badminton tournament in the first round last year.

The world's top-ranked shuttler, then No. 9, will return this year determined to ensure a better showing.

Organisers of the April 11-16 tournament announced her participation for the Superseries event, a second-tier competition on the Badminton World Federation calendar with a US$350,000 (S$497,500) prize purse.

Tai clinched the coveted world No. 1 ranking in November, reaching a goal she had targeted since she joined Chinese Taipei's national team in 2009.

Despite that satisfaction, the Kaohsiung-born player, who picked up trophies at the Indonesia, Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong stops to reach the summit, said her focus remains on her performances in tournaments.

"It doesn't feel much different," the 22-year-old said in reference to her new status.

  • TOP WOMEN'S SINGLES STARS AT THE S'PORE OPEN

    TAI TZU-YING (TPE), 22

    World No. 1, 2016 World Superseries Finals winner.

    CAROLINA MARIN (ESP), 23 

    World No. 2, 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist. 

    SUNG JI HYUN (KOR), 25 

    World No. 3, 2016 Korean Masters and New Zealand Open winner. 

    SUN YU (CHN), 22 

    World No. 4, 2016 Singapore Open runner-up. 

    P.V. SINDHU (IND), 21 

    World No. 5, 2016 China Open winner, Rio Olympics silver medallist. 

    AKANE YAMAGUCHI (JPN), 19 

    World No. 6, 2016 Korea and Denmark Open winner. 

    RATCHANOK INTANON (THA), 22

    World No. 8, 2016 India, Malaysia and Singapore Open winner.

    SAINA NEHWAL (IND), 26 

    World No. 9, 2016 Australian Open winner.

"In fact, it just means the challenge is greater. What I'm really after, beyond maintaining this ranking, is the ability to stay competitive in tournaments. Everyone will have a chance at the Singapore Open. I want to be able to face the competition with a relaxed mindset."

Tai won her first tournament as world No. 1 in December's season finale in Dubai, and could add to her resume in Singapore, being a two-time finalist here (2010 and 2015).

However, she will be up against rivals like India's Olympic medallists, P.V. Sindhu (2016, silver) and former world No. 1 Saina Nehwal (2012, bronze), both of whom confirmed their participations yesterday.

They will be joined by Japan's Rio de Janeiro Olympic bronze medallist Nozomi Okuhara and world No. 6 Akane Yamaguchi, setting the stage for one of the most competitive women's singles draws in Singapore in recent years.

Rio Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain, defending champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand, world No. 3 Sung Ji Hyun of South Korea and Chinese world No. 4 Sun Yu were pencilled in earlier.

Japan's 25-strong squad will also include Olympic women's doubles champions Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, who are also hoping to erase the disappointment of last year's tournament, in which they withdrew from the Singapore final owing to injury.

Said Matsutomo: "I believe that this hastened my recovery process and allowed us to clinch the gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

"We would like to win our first Singapore Open title this year, but we know that it's not an easy feat."

While entries close next week, the event already boasts a stellar line-up which features reigning Olympic champions in three events so far. Rio men's singles gold medallist Chen Long is also set to be in town.

Said Eugene Ang, organising chairman of the event: "There's a good mix of world No. 1s, Olympic champions and up-and-coming young players.

"We're sure the players will offer top-quality matches for badminton fans and hope that more will come watch these world-class athletes in action."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Tai up for greater challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe