by Tien Thanh
HCM CITY — A not-so-bright future stares at the sport of badminton in Viet Nam after Nguyen Tien Minh's unexpected early exit from the Yonex Australian Open Grand Prix Gold 2011 last week.
Struggling for form: Top player Nguyen Tien Minh suffered a quarterfinal loss at the Yonex Australian Open Grand Prix Gold 2011 last week. — VNA/VNS Photo Quoc Khanh
With seventh-ranked Minh, the only Vietnamese player to be listed among the world's top 100, having apparently reached the peak of his prowess, there is no talent that has been spotted to take his place.
The latest flop has extended the national badminton ace's title drought to nine months, with the last title being the one he has just exited in Melbourne.
Minh's most successful year was 2009, when he won the men's singles's events at the SCG Thailand Open Grand Prix and the Yonex Chinese Taipei Gold Grand Prix 2009. He also won the Viet Nam Grand Prix 2009 in HCM City that year, pushing him into the top ten realm.
In 2010, Minh could not defend his title in Thailand because the tournament was cancelled and at Chinese Taipei, he failed to retain the title, knocked out in the semi-finals by Indonesia's Simon Santoso.
The HCM City-born was able to maintain in his place in the world's top 10 ranking in 2010 by winning the Yonex Australian Open Grand Prix.
But since then, the 28-year-old athlete has not won any Super Series or Grand Prix title. At the Yonex BWF World Championships 2010 in Paris, Minh could not get past the third round. Worse still, he could not defend his title at Viet Nam Grand Prix 2010, losing to South Korean Park Hwan-sung in the quarter-finals.
At 28, it seems that age is affecting Minh's performance and it is possible that he can only compete in top competitions and have a chance at winning a few titles for a few more years.
Unfortunately, anyone who has followed badminton in Viet Nam over the five past years will recognise there is no worthy successor to Minh in sight.
Players once considered as potential successors like female athletes Le Ngoc Nguyen Nhung, Vu Thi Trang, Phung Nguyen and Phuong Nhi or male athlete Nguyen Hoang Nam have struggled to make their presence felt even at international competitions held at home.
Trang, Nhi and Nam and other Vietnamese players were eliminated early from the Ciputra Ha Noi Viet Nam Challenge 2011, which wrapped last week.
This happened despite the fact that the event's quality is far below that of the Grand Prix or Super Series, attracting only average or young players.
Besides Minh, no other Vietnamese player has ever won a single Viet Nam Grand Prix championship, the most prestigious badminton tournament in the country.
It is already seven years since Minh became the biggest badminton star in Viet Nam to shine on the world stage, but there is no one to fill his shoes and take the sport forward.
This is somewhat surprising, given that the sport is quite popular in the country that is surrounded by badminton powerhouses like China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Viet Nam Badminton Federation needs to act and act fast, to ensure that talented athletes get the facilities and opportunities to rise to world standards very soon. — VNS