Nguyen Tien Minh might not have been one of the star acts of the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 – but even in his two losses out of three matches, he set an example for a generation of younger shuttlers.
Nguyen had match points in both those Group 2 matches, both of which went over an hour. Leverdez wriggled out 18-21 23-21 21-19, while Loh Kean Yew felt to the floor in relief and exhaustion after his 16-21 21-18 23-21 result over his tenacious opponent.
Loh was just four years old when Nguyen debuted for Vietnam in 2001. The 22-year-old Singaporean was all praise for his opponent, who beat him the first time they played, in 2016.
“It’s always tough against him. It’s tiring to play him. His endurance is very good. He’s good at keeping the shuttle in play. It’s not easy for us younger players. We need to keep improving. His patience and endurance are very good, I have to learn from him.”
Nguyen – who turned 36 this February – is one of the few players of his generation still competing internationally. Among his contemporaries, only Lee Hyun Il, Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan, Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen are still around.
Loh admitted he was impressed with Nguyen’s fitness at his age: “I’m surprised by his fitness. For us younger players it’s good motivation to train harder, so that we can keep up with the pace when we’re older.
“They aren’t as fast as they used to be, but with their experience and shot quality, they’re still able to play very well.”
To what does Nguyen ascribe his fitness and enthusiasm?
“I exercise every day, I keep training hard. I eat well, sleep well, I keep my condition. I don’t go out too often,” says Nguyen.
“I cannot compete in terms of pace with younger players. If it’s a long game, it’s okay. But if it’s a fast-paced game, I cannot follow.”
His ranking having slipped to 60 from a career-high of 5 in September 2013, Nguyen hasn’t been seen lately on the upper tier of the World Tour. He is now eyeing a good performance at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 and qualification for Tokyo 2020.
Going by his performance this year, he will back himself to cause some surprises at the World Championships. He had a good run at the Badminton Asia Championships in April, beating Chen Long on his way to the semifinals.
“That was the second-best performance of my career,” says Nguyen. “The best will always be my bronze medal at the World Championships in 2013. My target now is to qualify for Tokyo 2020.”