Tough Tai Tzu-ying wins 2nd title, touched by fans' cheers

TAI TZU-YING
TAI TZU-YING

Most athletes feel nervous before important matches and can tense up even more when they are trailing, even if they do not show it.

Not Taiwanese badminton world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying, who is not your typical athlete.

After defeating Japan's Nozomi Okuhara 21-19, 21-15 in the women's singles final of the Singapore Badminton Open yesterday for her second straight title in as many weeks, she said: "I wasn't nervous, so I didn't need to calm down."

Tai, 24, explained in a deadpan tone why she does not feel butterflies in her stomach: "Maybe my nerves are thicker and I can't feel anything."

Her unflappable demeanour was evident in the semi-finals on Saturday when she said she felt "relaxed" despite losing the first game to another Japanese, Akane Yamaguchi, and facing four match points in the second. She saved all four match points and won 15-21, 24-22, 21-19.

Yesterday, it was the same story against world No. 3 Okuhara.

Tai was in control from the start, building a 13-8 lead. But the Japanese slowly worked her way back and levelled the score at 18-18 as their long rallies drew gasps of awe from the 4,962 spectators.

But Tai remained calm to close out the first game, stepped up her aggression in the second and sealed her second Singapore Open title after 2017 with smash into the corner.

NERVES OF STEEL

I wasn't nervous, so I didn't need to calm down. Maybe my nerves are thicker and I can't feel anything.

TAI TZU-YING, world No. 1, after the women's singles final yesterday.

"From the first day, there were a lot of people cheering for me. Today, there were even more so I was very touched," said Tai, who won the Malaysia Open last week.

"(Okuhara) plays more offensively and she's not an easy opponent. I know she can run so I was mentally prepared to run a lot today, since I also had a long match yesterday."

The victory edged her head-to-head record against the Japanese up to 5-4. Okuhara, also 24, won their last encounter at the Hong Kong Open in November.

Okuhara, the 2017 world champion, said: "She's very speedy and skilled, so I had to be careful. I made a lot of easy mistakes, so I couldn't win today. I put pressure on myself and I was thinking too much."

Nicole Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Tough Tai wins 2nd title, touched by fans' cheers'. Print Edition | Subscribe