By Lim Ci Hui (14A03B)
It was a day of mixed fortunes for the Raffles badminton team. The A Division girls clinched 1st position after beating Victoria Junior College 4 – 1, extending their winning streak of 8 years, while the boys emerged as 1st runners up after going down to longtime rivals and eventual champions ACS(I) 3 – 2.
In the boy’s first singles, Muhamad Imran from RI won with a resounding score of 21 – 7, 21 – 4. There was never any doubt as to who was in charge of the game as his powerful and accurate smashes made it difficult for his opponent to retaliate.
The same could not be said of the girl’s game in the next court, however, with Chong Fui Jin up against who teammates described as VJC’s best player. Initially, the score was close at 10 – 9 with VJC leading, and in between bouts of brilliant front-court battles both sides were pressured into making mistakes. Eventually, VJC pulled ahead and wrapped up the first game with a score of 25 – 16. Tension heightened in the Raffles camp, with the badminton team’s cheers taking on a slightly desperate edge as VJC charged into an early 4 – 0 lead in the second game. However, Sui Jin performed remarkably under pressure and pulled off a couple of spectacular saves. The final score was 21 – 10 in VJC’s favour.
Hereafter, fortunes were reversed for the boys’ and girls’ teams. Perhaps the first game set the tone for the remaining matches, as the RI girls and ACS(I) boys were galvanized into action after their teammates’ losses, fighting hard to regain the advantage for their respective teams.
Next up on the boy’s side was the duo of Jonathan Kit and Seah Wei Hing. The teams were reasonably evenly matched, with an initial score of 12 – 12, before ACS(I) pulled ahead after a few fast-paced plays to win the first game 21 – 15. Smarting from the first game defeat, the shuttlers conceded a few points in the second game to give ACS(I) an early lead of 5 – 0, but fought back admirably by winning 4 points in a row and pressured their opponents into making mistakes. However, ACS(I) eventually set up a match point of 20 – 13. As the ACS(I) shuttlers tried aggressively to wrap up the game, the Raffles duo responded by falling back on their excellent teamwork to pull off a few spectacular saves. The atmosphere in the Raffles camp was terse – would the boys be able to equalize ACS(I)’s 7-point advantage? Sadly, it was not to be as ACS(I) won the second set 21 – 16.
Meanwhile, the girl’s first doubles pair consisting of Lee Shu Ying and Chiu Jingwen was having an easier time at the adjacent court. VJC pulled ahead with an early lead of 5 – 2, spurring increasingly spirited attacks from the Raffles girls as they scored 7 points consecutively to bring the score to 9 – 5. The combination of Shu Ying’s excellent backhand saves and Jingwen’s powerful strokes to the back of the court saw them win the first set 21 – 15. Victory in the second set soon followed as they exploited the loopholes in their opponents’ defenses to triumph 21 – 13.
Poon Jey-ren represented RI in the boy’s second singles, which was another close fight with scores of 3 – 3, then 7 – 7 as the shuttlers exchanged blows. A few aggressive and well-placed smashes just out of his opponent’s reach saw Jey-ren pull ahead authoritatively, winning the set with a score of 21 – 13. In the second set Jey-ren build up an unassailable 11 – 3 lead, dominating the fast-paced game and pushing his opponent into mistakes on his way to a 21 – 9 victory.
The girls’ team roared to a resounding victory over VJC after two matches which were dominated by our RI shuttlers. Siti Nurhayati Rahim’s judicious judgment in the second singles match saw her make the best out of her opponent’s miscalculations as she placed the shuttlecock just out of her opponent’s reach time and again, cruising to a 21 – 12, 21 – 7 win. The duo of Sheryl Lim and Lim Boon Xin pulled ahead definitively in the second doubles with some fantastic playing as they outran and outwitted their opponents, culminating in a first set victory of 21 – 12. Winning the second set was never in doubt as the shuttlers returned their opponents’ shots with apparent ease to triumph 21 – 6.
Unfortunately for the boys’ team, their matches were not nearly as simple. In the adjacent court, the duo of Chung Tze Herng and Donavan Mui played in what was probably the most closely contested match all afternoon. It was the only game which extended to the third set, which is testimony to how evenly matched the teams were. In the first set, the score went from 3 – 3 to 10 – 10 with neither team seeming to get the upper hand. After half-time, the onslaught was largely led by ACS(I), until the RI duo seemed to gain a newfound confidence, pulling ahead for the first time in a few minutes with a score of 18 – 17. To resounding cheers, RI eventually edged out ACS(I) 22 – 20 in a thrilling finish.
The second set promised to be another close match with spectacular playing from both sides leading to a score of 9 – 9. However, this time was it was the ACS(I) boys who had the upper hand, launching a spirited attack to beat the Raffles duo 21 – 16. With both teams visibly tired, tension in the Raffles camp was palpable – would Tze Herng and Donavan be able to triumph over their opponents in this high-stakes game, thus clinching the title for the boys? The highly anticipated finale began promisingly for the Raffles shuttlers as they charged ahead 4 – 1 with a series of consecutive smashes. However, the score was equalized by ACS(I) at 9 – 9 and the lead shuttled between the two teams until they reached another stalemate at 17 – 17, promising a nail-bitingly close finish. Desperate to keep their title hopes alive, the ACS(I) duo scored 3 points in a row, homing in on the win, foiled only by Tze Herng and Donavan’s heroic saves; however, the ACS(I) shuttlers ultimately prevailed 21 – 18 in this intense match of stamina and speed.
With all eyes riveted on the boys’ doubles, the girl’s third singles received disproportionately less attention as RI had already clinched the title. This was a pity as Marissa played exceptionally well despite the attention of the coaches (and audience members) diverted to the match in the adjacent court. Her composure on court was remarkable as she returned all of her opponent’s shots with apparent ease, claiming an emphatic 21 – 6, 21 – 5 victory to extend RI’s lead over VJC.
Full attention was on Ho Huin Kit (the girls’ matches having concluded) as he stepped onto court for the deciding final match. Both sides fought hard to gain an advantage in a thrilling game with front-court battles, smashes and impressive saves, posting a score of 9 – 9. Peck Ern Min from ACS(I) eventually pulled ahead 18 – 12 with some aggressive playing, but Huin Kit stood his ground against the onslaught, responding with a couple of cleverly-placed shots of his own. ACS(I) won the round 21 – 15, dealing a further blow to RI’s title hopes and prompting the badminton team to redouble their cheering efforts with renewed vigour. The ACS(I) shuttler seemed to be on a roll as he snatched an early lead of 4 – 0, but a brilliant comeback by Huin Kit saw him score 7 points in a row for a score of 7 – 4 in RI’s favour. The atmosphere was electric as the lead swung back and forth between the players in this keenly contested match as they fought for the ultimate prize – the title for their respective schools. Originally down 16 – 11, a resurgent Huin Kit fought hard to narrow the difference in points and almost succeeded but was eventually overcome by the relentless ACS(I) shuttler 21 – 17.
Team captain Sheryl Lim said, “I think we all tried our best, and we are very proud of ourselves, because we gave it our best, and this is the result we got, so we are very happy with it.” Indeed, though the boys may have narrowly missed out on clinching the title, just the result alone does not sufficiently reflect the tenacity that they exhibited on court all afternoon. As for the girls, the months of hard work and training put in prior to the match were reflected by their emphatic victory as they consistently outplayed their opponents.
It was unfortunate that an afternoon of brilliant playing was marred by a lack of concerted efforts to cheer from the Raffles match supporters as compared to those from the other schools. This was largely due to the fact that the student councilors were attending their council investiture, which was running concurrently with the match. Their arrival in the second half of the match did see the enthusiasm level take a turn for the better as they tried to rally the Raffles crowd.
The badminton team played an instrumental role in motivating the players, keeping up a continuous stream of encouragement to their teammates on and off court, remaining spirited and constant in their support even in the face of disappointments.
Raffles Press would like to thank the team for their strong camaraderie and obvious passion for their game. To this correspondent, at least, their unwavering resolve stood as an impressive and poignant display of the Rafflesian Spirit.