For someone who has little to gain and plenty to lose at the upcoming LI-NING World Junior Championships 2018, Goh Jin Wei looks remarkably composed.
The Malaysian prodigy will be seen as the prime scalp for hungry opponents at the world’s premier junior tournament. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 for the 18-year-old. She is the favourite for the Women’s Singles gold, and few will be surprised if she does go on to win the title. If she doesn’t, however, it will be seen as a significant stumble.
Goh admits that she does feel the pressure. Still, despite the fact that she hasn’t been able to dominate the junior circuit as she was expected to, Goh chooses to see pressure itself as a positive aspect of high level competition.
“I do put too much pressure on myself (in junior tournaments)… I think it’s a good thing. Because if you have the desire to win, of course there will be pressure. So I think it will motivate me, it keeps me moving forward.”
Goh hit the big time on the junior circuit as early as 2015, winning the World Junior Championships when she was only 15, leading to comparisons with other early winners who would go on to find success at the senior level, like Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon and Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi.
Goh, however, has found it harder. Unlike both Intanon and Yamaguchi, who were excelling on the then Superseries tour even as juniors, Goh is still finding her feet. She has beaten players like Sung Ji Hyun and Michelle Li, and stretched other top players, but she hasn’t quite evolved as a consistent threat to the big names.
“I think I need to work on my strategy and my speed. When I play (Carolina) Marin or Tai Tzu Ying, their speed is such that I’m following them – I’m so passive. It’s due to a lack of speed.”
The inspiration to improve comes from her immediate predecessor as World Junior champion, Akane Yamaguchi.
“I look up to Yamaguchi, in terms of physical and mental ability, because she is built like me, short and muscular. I think I can imitate her strategy, but I have to try to learn skills from her.”
Goh comes into the World Junior Championships on the back of a memorable triumph at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. The final had been a tight, tense affair, with the Malaysian collapsing to the ground in tears after the 16-21 21-13 21-19 victory over China’s Wang Zhiyi.
How much will that triumph help her in Markham?
“Maybe it has helped my confidence, but other than that, I feel no different. My fitness has to improve. Here I will have to focus on every match, just fight for every point. I haven’t thought of the outcome, I will just do my best in following the process.”
Buenos Aires, however, was more than just about winning the gold medal.
“It was the most incredible Games,” recalls Goh with a smile. “I’m really looking forward to taking part in the Olympics. I have a lot of great memories and I made a lot of new friends in the relay team event, so it was great.
“It was different from the Open events. There are 12 or 13 Open events in a year, but at this one we had to stay in a village and eat together, compete and make new friends, it was totally a different tournament. I got a taste of the Olympics, I think I have to try to qualify (for Tokyo 2020) starting new year.”
The goal after the World Junior Championships, she says, will be to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
“I will be 20 by then, it will be a good time. My ranking has dropped because I took part in the YOG and World Juniors, but it’s okay, as long as I keep improving, I don’t think ranking matters.”