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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014

Sports

Paddlers pass major test

The Straits Times | Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014

IT MAY be gloomy skies over Glasgow but a new dawn has broken for Singapore table tennis as a fresh women's side won their first major honour to prove that there is life after the retirement of tried-and-tested veterans.

With Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu - two pillars of the team who won Olympic medals in 2008 and 2012 - gone, the new crop of Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye, Isabelle Li and Zhou Yihan plus world No. 5 Feng Tianwei, delivered the Republic's first major title since the heady days of London 2012.

Facing neighbours Malaysia in the team final yesterday at the Scotstoun Sports Campus, Singapore recorded a convincing 3-0 win despite stiff resistance.

With a handful of Malaysians cheering from the stands and even waving placards linked to the Malaysia Airlines plane crash in Ukraine, the atmosphere became even more charged up.

Boosted by the support from the stands, Malaysia's first singles player Ng Sock Khim won the first set 11-7 against Yu.

For the Singaporean, it could have triggered off memories of her 3-2 singles defeat to India's Manika Batra in the semi-final, which Singapore won 3-1 - the only time the champions had dropped a point en route to the gold medal.

But her stand was: "It was a good chance to show that I can bounce back.

"Coach Jing (Junhong) helped me tremendously with her constant encouragement. She told me not to doubt myself and just go out there and play my heart out.

"I listened to her words and went out letting the opponent adapt to my game rather than me playing to suit her style."

Once Yu, the world No. 18, unleashed her aggression, there was no way back for Ng as the Singaporean won the next three sets 11-5, 11-9 and 11-9.

Skipper Feng, the highest- ranked women's player in Glasgow at No. 5, then easily overcame world No. 163 Beh Lee Wei 11-8, 11-5 and 11-4.

It was not so smooth sailing in the doubles when Ho Ying and Beh clawed back the second set against Lin and Yu.

But amid the loud cheers from the Singaporean fans, who included Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Sam Tan, Lin and Yu found the willpower to survive the long rallies and clinch a 3-1 win (11-9, 11-13, 11-9 and 11-5).

Feng said: "We had a hard time in the doubles because the Malaysians refused to give up but we withstood the pressure."

Jing praised her captain for leading by example: "Tianwei was a calming influence. After Mengyu's defeat, maybe there would be jitters but looking at the way the captain played, the players got the courage to go out there to fight for Singapore.

"It was an outstanding performance from the team against a Malaysia team that attacked fiercely.

"This experience can only be good for the young players who have now tasted a major competition."

Team Singapore chef de mission Low Teo Ping said: "We need to keep the momentum going and I am pleased that this second gold is timely. We urge the athletes to continue to stay focused on their competitions." meng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 28, 2014.
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