SINGAPORE – They have been dubbed the nearly men and chokers, but in August 2022, Malaysia men’s doubles duo Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik stood proudly on top of the podium as their country’s first badminton world champions.
While they also claimed bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, they still belong to a rare breed of world champions who are yet to win a title on the Badminton World Federation World Tour.
At this week’s US$850,000 (S$1.15 million) Singapore Badminton Open, the world No. 4s are two wins away from ending that drought after beating Indonesia’s defending champions and 10th-ranked Leo Carnando and Daniel Marthin 18-21, 21-16, 22-20 in Friday’s quarter-final.
They will face China’s third-ranked Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang on Saturday for a place in Sunday’s final.
Soh, who played a calm match-winning shot beyond Marthin’s reach in front of 5,300 fans, said: “Through the world championships, we learnt how to manage pressure and emotions. But every tournament and arena is different and we are still learning to adapt and adjust accordingly.
“Today, with the crowd cheering for us whether we were leading or trailing, it felt like we were playing in Malaysia. It was definitely a motivation and we made it a point to fight for them.”
Chia added: “We desire that first World Tour title so much that we can be too eager to win matches when we are within touching distance of victory, leading a lapse in shot quality and more mistakes.
“Our results have been up and down this season, and we are still searching for that consistency and hopefully we can find that this week.”
Perhaps they can take some pointers from the singles semi-finalists.
In the women’s singles, the top four seeds all prevailed to set up super Saturday.
After winning four titles this season, including last week’s Thailand Open, South Korea’s world No. 2 An Se-young has been relentless in Singapore as she racked up her seventh straight-game win in a row to dispose of China’s seventh-ranked Wang Zhiyi 21-18, 21-18.
She will meet Taiwanese world No. 3 Tai Tzu-ying, who beat China’s fifth-ranked He Bingjiao 21-16, 21-11 and has similarly not dropped a game at the Singapore Indoor Stadium
Tai said: “I managed to cut down on unforced errors today and I hope tomorrow I can do the same, play more rallies with An and keep up with her speed.”
The other semi-final will be contested between Japan’s world champion Akane Yamaguchi and China’s Olympic champion Chen Yufei. World No. 1 Yamaguchi outlasted compatriot Aya Ohori 21-18, 19-21, 21-16, while fourth-ranked Chen beat Thailand’s world No. 22 Supanida Katethong 21-18, 21-15.
In the men’s singles, a repeat of the 2022 final is still on the cards, with Indonesia’s defending champion and world No. 2 Anthony Ginting and Japan’s fourth-ranked Kodai Naraoka winning their respective quarter-finals.
Ginting lived up to his billing as the tour’s fastest player as he dictated the pace in the decider to beat China’s world No. 12 Li Shifeng 21-13, 16-21, 21-12. In the last four, he will face Thailand’s world No. 3 Kunlavut, who cruised past France’s 35th-ranked Christo Popov 21-13, 21-17.
The beaming Asian champion said: “This is my favourite country on the tour and my fortunes also picked up after winning here last year. Li Shifeng did well to slow down the pace in the second game, but I felt I did well to re-assume control in the third game when both of us are familiar with the conditions. I hope to do the same over the weekend.”
Meanwhile, Naraoka outclassed China’s world No. 9 Shi Yuqi 21-14, 21-16 to book his semi-final with Denmark’s 22nd-ranked Anders Antonsen, who beat Taiwanese world No. 42 Lee Chia-hao 12-21, 21-13, 21-11.