Bumper week for sports: Singapore Badminton Open, HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, The Ring Fighting Championship

Top shuttlers attending the public media conference for the 2019 Singapore Badminton Open at Wisma Atria: (from left) Kento Momota, Jonatan Christie, P.V. Sindhu, Sai Praneeth and Yeo Jia Min. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

Sports fans in Singapore are in for a week of exceptional sporting events, with top international athletes coming to town for high-quality competitions in the Republic.

This year’s Singapore Badminton Open, which takes place from Tuesday (9 April) to Sunday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, is set to be fiercely contested, with strong fields in all categories.

They feature badminton greats such as China’s Lin Dan, reigning champions of elite events such as Olympic gold medallist Chen Long and Asian Games winner Jonatan Christie, as well as all the current world No. 1s such as top women’s singles shuttler Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan.

With the qualifying period for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics starting after the Open, all the top shuttlers will be aiming to pick up ranking points and build up their playing form at the tournament, which is a World Tour Super 500 event with a total prize money of US$355,000 (S$480,700). 

Tough matchups from opening rounds of Singapore Open

Japan’s world No. 1 men’s singles shuttler Kento Momota, who holds a special affection for the Open as it was where he won his first Super Series title in 2015, is eager to come up tops in Singapore for a second time.

The reigning All-England champion said at a public media conference for the Open at Wisma Atria on Tuesday, “In the past, I could only play aggressively and I didn’t have any strategy. Compared to 2015, I believe I have improved by adding different tactics, different dimensions to my playing style.

“I hope I can draw inspiration from all the players at the Open, and do well at the tournament.”

The 24-year-old will begin his tournament with a tough tie against India’s Sai Praneeth, who also won the Singapore Open in 2017. Praneeth, ranked world No. 19, has a 2-1 win-loss record against Momota, but lost in straight games in their most recent clash at the 2018 World Championships.

Meanwhile, badminton great Lin Dan, fresh from winning last week’s Malaysia Open, also faces a daunting opening round against Denmark’s world No. 4 Viktor Axelsen, whom he surprisingly has a losing career record against (four defeats in seven encounters).

The depth of the men’s singles playing field meant that Singapore’s top shuttler Loh Kean Yew – who stunned Lin to win January’s Thailand Masters – had to start in the qualifying rounds before the main draw. The world No. 49 failed to set up a semi-final rematch with Lin, however, losing to Hong Kong’s world No. 35 Lee Cheuk Yiu 16-21, 17-21 on Tuesday morning.

A dejected Loh said, “I did not perform so well. Additionally, my opponent was very well-prepared and played fiercely. That’s why I lost.

“I made mistakes too easily. When I tried to focus on getting my shots in, I rushed my shots. We played once before and I lost that one too. And since he is familiar with my weaknesses, I think he prepared for the match better than I did.”

Race heats up for overall title at HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens

This weekend will also see the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens being held at the National Stadium for the fourth straight year.

Carlin Isles of the United States greets fans during his team’s arrival for the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens tournament. (PHOTO: Paul Miller/Getty Images for Singapore Sports Hub)

And after the previous leg of the World Rugby Sevens series in Hong Kong last week, just seven points separate overall leaders United States (130 points) and Fiji (123), who won on Sunday after beating France 21-7.

With only the London and Paris legs to go, both contenders will be looking to gain a decisive edge in Singapore this weekend.

The US have been on a fairytale run in this series, with victory on home soil in the Las Vegas leg and four runners-up finishes (Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton and Sydney), a massive achievement for a non-traditional rugby nation.

Said their coach Mike Friday, “We also understand the competition and the history of these traditional Rugby Sevens nations like Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Australia. For the US, which is a Tier 2 rugby nation, to gatecrash and be a part of that party is something that we are insanely proud of. So we keep our feet grounded, we stay focus on the process – which is trying to get Olympic qualification.”

Fiji, who are the defending Singapore Sevens champions, will be eyeing a successful title defence to overtake the US. Coach Gareth Baber said, “The players have worked extremely hard; we have got some young players in there and in Hong Kong we saw debutants who were phenomenal in terms of what they had taken on.

“Mike has done a great job with the US, but equally the coaches of England, South Africa, New Zealand and all the other teams, they have pushed the competition level up game by game.”

Hamzah Farouk to defend his title at The Ring Fighting Championship

Boxing fans can also look forward to the sixth edition of The Ring Fighting Championship, which will take place at The Ring Fighting Community arena at Kim Yam Road on Friday.

The well-supported grassroots competition has grown to become an international affair since the inaugural edition in April 2017, and Friday’s event will see Singapore’s Hamzah Farouk in his first defence of his World Boxing Council (WBC) Asia Continental super featherweight title.

The 30-year-old, who has an unbeaten 7-0 professional record, faces veteran Thai boxer Paiboon Lorkham, who has 30 fights under his belt (19 wins, 11 losses).

Singapore boxer Hamzah Farouk will be defending his WBC Asia Continental super featherweight title at The Ring Fighting Championship VI on 12 April, 2019. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

He told Yahoo News Singapore in an interview at The Ring on 4 April, “I don’t feel that I have any advantage as a defending champion. If anything, it spurs me to train even harder because I know that now I have a target on my back.

“There are no short cuts to success in boxing, but I’m prepared to be the best version of myself on fight night. I believe I am the better boxer, so I will get my hands raised in victory and walk out of the arena as still the champion.”

The other main event of the fight night will pit Singapore’s Alexandrew David against France’s Abdelelah Karroum for the WBC Asia Silver super welterweight title.

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