Li-Ning Open will be key Olympics tune-up: SBA

Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei (in red) are tipped to reach the finals of the Li-Ning Open (Getty Images)Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei (in red) are tipped to reach the finals of the Li-Ning Open (Getty Images)

The Li-Ning Badminton Open will be an important warm-up tournament for Singapore's four Olympic-bound shuttlers, says Bobby Lee, the chief executive officer of the Singapore Badminton Association.

He was speaking at the press conference for the week-long tournament that starts on Tuesday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

Men's and women's singles players Derek Wong and Gu Juan, as well as the women's doubles pair of Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari will fly the Singapore flag at next month's Olympic Games in London, and Lee hoped the quartet will head to London on the back of a good showing at the Li-Ning Open.

But he cautioned, "A good showing will play a significant part but I don't want to put too much pressure on them."

On Yao and Shinta, the 2010 Li-Ning Singapore Open women's doubles champions, Lee hoped the pair, who have been playing together for four years, can "arrest the inconsistency" in their form.

This time around, the duo are tipped to progress all the way to the finals. They face a new Malaysian pairing of Vivian Hoo and Woon Khe Wei  in their opening tie.

"Everyone's target is to win and we are feeling confident," Yao told reporters during the press conference.

While Lee has set a quarter-final target for players who are already in the tournament's main draw -- Yao, Shinta, Gu and reigning sportswoman of the year, Fu Mingtian -- he said all is not lost even if that goal is not met.

"Gu Juan has a difficult first-round match against Thailand's Porntip Buranaprasertsuk, who was in the world's top ten until her form slipped recently," he pointed out.

The Thai shuttler is currently ranked a spot below the Singaporean world No.16, but has beaten Gu in three of their five previous encounters.

In comparison, Fu, the 2011's South-East Asia Games gold medallist, will contest a straightforward opener against a qualifier in the first round. Wong meanwhile will have to negotiate his way through Monday's qualifiers.

Should he manage to do so -- and in the process, meet Lee's target for him -- he will face Indonesian fourth-seed Simon Santoso when the main event starts on Tuesday.

"I want to get into the main draw and then get as far as I can," he said.

During the 30-minute media session, it was also revealed that women's top seed Jiang Yanjiao of China and Korea's Bae Youn Joo, the No. 6 ranked woman player, have also withdrawn from the event due to injury.

The US$200,000 (S$257,464) event, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has been robbed of star names in recent weeks.

Men's world No.1 Lee Chong Wei is injured while China's world No 2 Lin Dan is skipping event. Chen Long (Men's No.3), Wang Xin (Women's No.2), Li Xuerui (Women's No.3), Wang Shixian (Women's No.4) and Wang Lin from the China national team are also giving the Super Series event a miss.

While no reasons were given for their pull-out, it's believed many players are saving themselves for the London Olympics which starts late next month. In their absence, Olympic men's singles champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia and Thailand's Boonsak Polsana are expected to be biggest draw in the competition.

Still, officials also expressed confidence that the crowd turnout will not be affected by the  withdrawal of the world's best.

Pointing to the tournament's 25-year history, Lee said, "We always have a good crowd at the Li-Ning Open, and with the overseas stars dropping out, our local players can have a chance to do well and attract more people to watch."