There was, in Soniia Cheah’s victory on Tuesday, the elemental joy of playing that she had only recently rediscovered. The rediscovery had happened, somewhat ironically, only when she resumed training after a months-long break following the Tokyo Olympics last year.
Worn down by a bone spur in her right ankle and the pressure of having to perform, Cheah had decided to give up the sport to pursue her studies, but with her past ranking points making her eligible for the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022, she resumed training three months ago with a club. Relieved of the pressure that had weighed her down earlier, she carried that light-hearted feeling into her opening round against Indonesia’s young talent Putri Kusuma Wardani. The tall Malaysian’s steep attack carried the day, 21-19 21-18. Wardani had inched close by saving three match points, but even then Cheah looked at ease. Once she’d converted her fourth match point, she giggled with childlike joy.
“It’s already an honour to play here. And I came back because I have passion for badminton. I feel that badminton is in my blood. So as long as I get to play on court, I feel happy. I really enjoy playing,” she said.
“I didn’t enjoy it earlier because when you’re with the national team, the expectations are different. And I couldn’t really find the real value in badminton. Now I feel the real value in badminton, which is that badminton is more than just results. That’s why I came back.”
Today’s victory was her first after six straight first round losses. She was detected with the bone spur after Tokyo 2020 and the doctor had advised surgery, but she had put it off as she’d already had four surgeries in the ankle.
Having won her first round, Cheah isn’t sure of what the immediate future holds in badminton, but she’s clear that she will continue to be involved with the sport.
“As an independent player, it’s hard to find funding, so I’m grateful to my sponsors for helping me come here. It’s really great to be here. I just felt so happy to come back.
“Even if I retire, I will still be in this field, but in a different way, maybe. I really love badminton because the value I found in badminton is very different. It’s more than just winning or losing.”