VietNamNet Bridge – He may have amassed a collection of international titles, but Viet Nam's top badminton player Nguyen Tien Minh is still missing a men's singles gold from the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
The biennial tournament, the largest in the region, is approaching, and the world No 8 is expected to produce something special as top seed.
The door for Minh is wide open because his main rivals will be occupied at the Super Series Finals for the top eight players in the world that will be held in Malaysia at the same time. Southeast Asian players in the top 8, including world No 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, No 5 Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia and No 7 Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand plan to skip the Myanmar Games to focus on the year-end tournament.
Minh's main opponents will be world No 12 Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk of Thailand, No 13 Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia and No 16 Wei Feng Chong from Malaysia.
Minh is the title favourite, although he refused to talk about his target or his rivals during an interview with The Thao&Van Hoa Cuoi Tuan (Sports&Culture Weekend) magazine.
"I don't want to talk much about the SEA Games. I just can say I am focusing on training and will try my best in every match, no matter who my rivals are," said Minh.
The HCM City-born athlete reached his best in 2010 when he was ranked No 5 in the world for the first time in his career. Minh is the only Vietnamese player to enter the world top 10, and has held his place there for most of the last decade.
However, the two-time Olympian has never convinced people of his abilities because of his up-and-down performances, especially at the SEA Games where he has failed to live up to expectations.
At the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand, Minh shared third-place with Boonsak Ponsana, his best result in five attempts.
Two years later in Laos, he was stopped in the quarter-finals by Boonsak, and at the last Games in Indonesia, Minh was beaten again in the quarters by Wong Derek of Singapore.
In preparation for this SEA Games, Minh has taken part in different tournaments including the world championships where he took a bronze medal in August in China.
"It is the best achievement in my 10-year career. I am happy and satisfied with it," Minh said.
People believed that his achievement in China would spur on his career, but his poor performance at the China Open and Hong Kong Open earlier this month proved otherwise.
Minh was eliminated early from both tournaments, which were important warm-ups for the Games.
"Minh has never been consistent. He can play brilliantly at one tournament, and then get knocked out in the first round at the next. This tournament will show what he's made of," said Huynh Ngoc Lien, deputy chairwoman of the HCM City Badminton Federation.
Lien said if Minh could focus on a solid training plan so he reached his peak at the Games, he would be crowned champion.
Minh, who will turn 30 on December 2, also knows he is approaching the end of his career, and plans to retire in the next two years.
Badminton will be played from December 9-14 at the Wunna Theikdi Sports Complex in Nay Pyi Taw.