From a ranking of 120 in October last year, to within the top 50 this year, Liang Xiaoyu has come a long way in relatively quick time.
The 20-year-old now heads the Singapore challenge in Women’s Singles, and is the frontrunner from her country to make the Women’s Singles qualifiers’ list for the Rio Olympics.
Daughter of a badminton coach, Liang was not always serious about badminton.
“My father introduced me to the sport when I was very young,” she says. “I was only playing for leisure. There was no plan to play badminton as a career. After some time, he told me that if I really wanted to show significant results in badminton, I had to train seriously. I could not just play for fun every day.”
Although she was a quarter-finalist at the 2013 and 2014 World Junior Championships and a bronze medallist at the 2014 Badminton Asia Youth U-19 Championships, Liang struggled to balance academics with training. The Singaporean then had the difficult task of choosing one over the other.
“My father advised me to choose one and try to excel in it. If I wanted to continue with my studies, I could do that later. It took us a long time to make up our minds, and finally we decided that I should focus on badminton now because these few years are the most crucial years of my career.”
The shift in priorities started to make an impact. At the SCG Thailand Open in October last year came her biggest moment. Playing home favourite Ratchanok Intanon in the semi-finals, Liang was the rank underdog but refused to buckle.
“I had played Ratchanok before in a team event and also in last year’s SEA Games. I lost to her in both tournaments. Before the match (in Thailand), I did not have the confidence to beat her. I thought it would be difficult. But I was also not afraid of her. I walked on to the court without any fear. I just wanted to play my game and give my best.”
Against all expectations, the young Singaporean triumphed 22-20 13-21 21-17 to make the Grand Prix Gold final. Although she lost to Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, she came away a much more confident player. The very next month she won the Maybank Malaysia International Challenge.
“If you have made it to the final, you would have played at least five matches. That means you have met five opponents with different playing styles and tactics. So you will get to learn and experience many new things from just one tournament,” reasons Liang.
Currently No.22 in the Race to Rio rankings, the Olympic spot is within Liang’s grasp.
“If I really do qualify for Rio, I will be very happy and very excited, because I never thought that I could make it even though I really want to play in the Olympics. The feeling of happiness will be beyond what I can imagine,” says the soft-spoken Singaporean.
This year Liang has had modest results. Looking ahead, she hopes to top the podium at a major event and to remain consistent.
“For the next few years, I hope that the standard of my game will be higher and that my performance on court will be more stable and consistent. I also hope to win an international tournament like the Thailand Open. I also want to play in the World Championships and achieve a good result at the Worlds.”
Watch this Badminton Unlimited feature on Liang Xiaoyu.