Pictured: Ryan Tong (New Zealand). Photo credit: Badminton Photo
The recent Thomas Cup Finals team announcement by Badminton New Zealand confirmed the selection of Ryan Tong – one of the reigning Oceania Junior Men’s Doubles Champion. Tong was victorious during the VICTOR Oceania Junior Championships 2019 alongside Jack Wang. The pair overcame Australia’s Ricky Tang and Otto Xing De Zhao 19-21 21-15 21-19 in a nail-biting final.
But first, he will be tackling the VICTOR Oceania Championships next week alongside Jonathan Curtin in the men’s doubles and Janice Jiang in the mixed. Badminton Oceania caught up with 21-year-old Tong to discuss his recent preparations, ambitions, tournament experiences and the transition from a junior to the open level:
What has your badminton journey looked like since your last Continental Championships?
“My badminton journey since the last Oceania Champs can be summarized as a lot of training sessions with some breaks in between. With multiple lockdowns restricting my access to training, it’s been tough to stay motivated at times.
However, I’m lucky to have such a good training circle around me to hold me accountable and pick me back up. Even though international competition is a big part of the sport, I am ultimately grateful for the long down time we had to really work and improve on my game.”
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your training or badminton ambitions? Were there any opportunities throughout New Zealand’s lockdowns to progress your game?
“I’d be lying if I said my motivation didn’t decrease a little bit during lockdowns but not for long thanks to the squad around me holding me accountable and keeping me motivated with a lot of trash talk.
There were definitely plenty of opportunities to progress my game during COVID-19 as we did not have as many competitions compared to a normal season.
This really allowed me to narrow down and really focus on the things I needed to improve on without the worry of implementing it so quickly or wondering if it would work next week at a tournament.”
You head into the event as the reigning Men’s Doubles Junior Champion. Does this provide you with some confidence or motivation as you move into the Open?
“To me, although this achievement is something I am really proud of, I do not think this should provide me with any source of confidence for this next tournament.
I won that tournament with Jack back in 2019 and a lot can happen in 3 years. I can’t keep reminiscing about the past so I’m not really looking at that tournament as a sort of source for confidence but more as a motivational factor.
To achieve something like that and feel the rush again is the goal for me. Confidence should come from the amount of work I’ve put in from the past year and not from something 3 years ago.”
Reflecting on all four previous Oceania Championships (Junior and Open) appearances, what have you learnt from the experiences?
“I’ve learnt that there are really no “easy games” and having a gameplan is super important. When I first competed at the Oceania Champs, I neglected the importance of a gameplan and realised at this level, it was required to win a game.”
What parts of your game or training have you had to elevate in order to prepare for the ‘Open’ tournaments?
“I feel like my defense has really taken a step in the right direction, but I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, I’ve still got a long way to go.”
What are your ambitions in this year’s Oceania Championships?
“Going into this Oceania Championships, I have no real set goal. With a new partner this year and this being my first international tournament I guess I could say my ambition is to see how I fare right now and see if I can transfer what I have worked on in training into international match play.”
What motivates you the most to keep training and competing at this level?
“The obvious motivation is winning but I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest source of motivation for me. For me the whole grind of working on something and seeing it work in game is a sort of validation for me that I find addicting.
It’s just satisfying when you see something you worked so hard on help you win a game. The relationship I formed with different friends I’ve made in badminton has also kept me motivated as we’re all competing on this level, and I can’t afford to fall behind them.”
Congratulations on your Thomas Cup selection. What do you make of this experience?
“Being selected for Thomas Cup is something I was definitely working towards. It’s a huge honour to be selected and having my hard work validated is great. I’m excited to travel to Bangkok to gain more experience from the next level above and hopefully learn a few new things.”
What are you looking forward to the most about playing in a ‘team event’ as opposed to the more frequent individual tournaments?
“I’ve always enjoyed team events more than individual tournaments from a young age. I always felt like there is a bigger sense of pride on the line when a team is formed.
To have teammates that want you to win just as bad as you do and hearing them behind the court cheering for you is a feeling that I can’t explain. It’s like next level motivation because I can’t let them down.
I just feel like there’s more to play for because you’ve got everyone depending on you to do your job and you depend on them to do theirs. The idea of winning together as a team is also something I haven’t experienced, so every time there is a team event happening I’m always going to put that extra 10% in.”
How do you feel about making the milestone of your first international cap at the Thomas Cup Finals?
“Yeah, this will be my first senior cap at an international event. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to come so early but I’m happy it did. I’m incredibly proud and excited but also nervous at the same time. There’s a lot of emotions happening at once as it should be. I’m just happy that I achieved this opportunity.”
Have you received any advice from more experienced players in your team regarding Thomas Cup?
“I’ve received a lot of advice from my coaches Rikke and Henry for when I compete at the Thomas Cup. It’s mainly about stuff I’ve been neglecting on, which is important for when I compete at the Thomas Cup, and how I need to improve on these things to stand a chance.
Although it can be frustrating to work on at times, I’m grateful for having two great coaches guide me through it”
Written by Alex Deng