July winner: Yeo Jia Min

Youngster shuttling to the top

Yeo Jia Min's parents, Yeo Sik Tat and Judy Wong (couple in the middle) receiving the ST Star of the Month award from ST sports editor Marc Lim and Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods Singapore. This is the second time Yeo has won this accolad
Yeo Jia Min's parents, Yeo Sik Tat and Judy Wong (couple in the middle) receiving the ST Star of the Month award from ST sports editor Marc Lim and Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods Singapore. This is the second time Yeo has won this accolade.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN
Yeo Jia Min's parents, Yeo Sik Tat and Judy Wong (couple in the middle) receiving the ST Star of the Month award from ST sports editor Marc Lim and Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods Singapore. This is the second time Yeo has won this accolad
Yeo Jia MinST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

17-year-old rising fast with victory at Vietnam Open

At 17, Yeo Jia Min is still a junior player. Yet she has already accomplished what some other badminton players will take years to achieve, or simply fail altogether - win a professional singles title.

For example, Gu Juan, a former Singapore shuttler who reached a career-high ranking of 15th in 2012, retired in 2014 without winning a competition.

But playing in only her fourth senior tournament of the year at the Yonex Sunrise Vietnam Open Grand Prix, Yeo belied her tender years to lift her first trophy as a professional shuttler.

To add glitter to the silverware, she did not drop a game en route to her triumph, posting five straight-game wins, and claiming the scalps of three players ranked in the top 100 along the way.

She snapped Japanese Ayumi Mine's 14-match winning streak in the final, beating her then-56th ranked opponent 21-14, 21-17.

Yeo said: "I was a little surprised because I've just been focusing on my game and wasn't really thinking of having to win the title.

"I have not played in many competitions this year, especially senior ones.

"It was a bonus that I won, and I still have a lot to improve."

GOAL IS TO GET BETTER

I've just been focusing on my game and wasn't really thinking of having to win the title... It was a bonus that I won, and I still have a lot to improve.

YEO JIA MIN, national shuttler, on winning her first professional title.

Yeo's breakthrough in Ho Chi Minh City has propelled her by 42 spots to a career-high ranking of 119, making her the second-highest ranked Singaporean female shuttler behind 31st-ranked Liang Xiaoyu, 20, currently at the Olympics.

Yeo's achievement earned her the nod for The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for July.

It is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year award, launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's isotonic drink 100Plus.

Yeo was unable to attend the award presentation yesterday afternoon with her parents Yeo Sik Tat, 60, and Judy Wong, 53, receiving the award on her behalf.

She is currently on a two-week training tour in Japan with national chief coach Chua Yong Joo and compatriot Grace Chua, 20.

The youngest of three siblings, Yeo is the first badminton player to receive the award twice.

Last October, she was honoured for winning both the singles and doubles titles at the Badminton Asia Under-17 Junior Championships.

Following those victories, the reticent teenager said it was "a small stepping stone to bigger tournaments" which gave her the confidence of "breaking through on the international circuit one day".

Winning her second accolade in less than a year is a reflection of how fast she has risen as she takes on more senior tournaments this year.

Since graduating from the Singapore Sports School last year, she has chosen to train full-time as she ponders her future academic options.

Now, she trains six hours a day, six times a week at the OCBC Arena with the national squad.

She said: "I've been working on improving my game play and I was aiming for a breakthrough soon.

"I worked on finding ways to create opportunities and take more initiatives during the play to use one of my strengths, which is attacking. I hope it will be the start of more wins in the near future."

Given her track record, she might not have too long to wait.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Youngster shuttling to the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe