|Lê Đức Phát competes and wins at the National Badminton Clubs Championship in Cần Thơ City in April. Photo courtesy of Lê Đức Phát|
HÀ NỘI — Young, talented and determined, Lê Đức Phát is tipped to be a badminton star in the near future.
He hopes he will take his first steps to success at the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Việt Nam.
In the past, Việt Nam's Nguyễn Tiến Minh reached number five on the world stage and won bronze medals at four SEA Games.
Now there's a new man on the block, hoping to take Minh's crown.
Phát was born in 1998 to a sporting family in Đồng Nai Province. His father Lê Văn Đức was a national boxing champion in 1988.
Since he was young, sport was always at the forefront of Phát's childhood.
"My dad built up a small yard for me to play football, a court for badminton and hung a punching bag for boxing," he told Việt Nam News.
"He tried to train me to be a boxer but I was a coward and did not like fighting, I was scared of boxing, I was afraid of being beaten and could not bear the pains, so I quit."
Phát lost interest in football after a short time as well before turning his hand to badminton, unaware at the time it would become his passion in life.
As a six-year-old, he would follow his father and neighbours to the court every day after school. He gradually fell in love with the sport.
In 2014 Phát joined the Military Badminton Team after he was rejected by the HCM City Team. Three years later he began to shine.
"I made the national team in 2017 after winning a gold medal in the U18 category and a bronze from the national championship," he said.
"I thought I deserved to be a national team member because of my performances."
Since then, the young player has made strong progress in his career and taken No 2 position in Việt Nam. He also made his mark on the international stage, winning a men's single title at the Pakistan International Series and a third place at the Nepal International Series in 2017.
"It was great happiness for me (at the age of 19) as it was my first time at international events. These beautiful memories helped build my confidence on my way to fulfill my passion," said Phát.
|Lê Đức Phát hopes the pandemic is soon controlled so he could return to competition. Photo courtesy of Lê Đức Phát|
Being in the national team, Phát became teammates with his idol Minh who he has watched closely in domestic tournaments for more than a decade.
"He is a patient, determined and hard working player. He is really serious and strict in both practising and normal activities. I have learned a lot from him," said Phát.
SEA Games dream
After years losing to Minh in all tournaments, Phát finally beat his idol in 2020.
He defeated Minh 21-10, 21-9 in the final of the BT Sport Open in late December. His win, despite in an amateur event, sent shockwaves through Vietnamese badminton. It became more special for Phát as in previous months of 2020 Minh was an undefeated player and won all tournaments that he competed.
“I lost to him twice in national tournaments' semi-finals. I was not bad but lost decisive points because of lack of experience and confidence in big matches,” said Phát.
|The national No 2 player Lê Đức Phát has plans in place to improve on the world stage. Photo courtesy of Lê Đức Phát|
“But in this final, I was better in my performance. I was over the moon with that victory. He is my teammate, a kind of coach and my idol. He trained me and advised me to go far since my first day at the national team."
Like many athletes in the world, Phát's training schedule has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he still hopes to make a breakthrough when tournaments return.
Phát, who missed the SEA Games in 2019 because of a thigh injury, added: "This year, I have suffered injuries. COVID-19 is also a big problem that leads to my unstable performances. But I still want to win the national championship and secure a place at the 31st SEA Games team.
"I have to improve my skills. My strong points are in good shape, powerful smashes and strong playing style which should be a plus in international competitions. However, my weaknesses such as focus, quick reactions and flexibility need to be strengthened."
The 1.86m-tall player has set up a routine to improve his technique. All he needs is the pandemic to ease.
"I have my own programme to reach my best at the Games," he said.
"I will try to win a medal on home turf. I can't say which colour medal it will be because ASEAN is home to world elite players from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. To take gold medal from SEA Games is as hard as the world events. But playing at home, I hope to do something special.
"I hope the pandemic would be managed as soon as possible so that I could take part in international competitions, first to warm up for SEA Games, then to collect points for my world ranking. I plan to enter the top 100 so I could qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024."
When speaking about world number 200 Phát, Olympic athlete Minh believes Việt Nam have real talent on their hands.
|Lê Đức Phát hopes to shine at the 31st SEA Games to be held in Hà Nội. Photo courtesy of Lê Đức Phát|
"Phát is young and has made great progress in his career. He is one of two faces that I believe will lift Việt Nam higher in badminton after I retire," Minh said.
"As we grow up, world players also do. It is important that they suffer no pressure and are given best conditions for training and competing." VNS