Asian Games: Male power

Asian Games: Male power
Singapore won the gold medal: Li Hu (R) and Gao Ning Gao (L) return the ball to England's Andrew Baggley and Paul Drinkhall (unseen) during their table tennis men's team gold medal match at the Scotstoun Sports Campus at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on July 28, 2014.

INCHEON - Singapore's women paddlers have traditionally flown the national flag higher than their male counterparts.

With a couple of Olympic medals to their name and perhaps an even larger feather in their cap - a famous win over mighty China at the 2010 World Championships - there is little doubt that Singapore's table tennis women have regularly outperformed the men.

At the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, even with world No. 10 Yu Mengyu out injured and fourth-ranked Feng Tianwei carrying a knee injury, the women managed to win a bronze medal in the team event, while the men were chasing shadows. Until yesterday.

Gao Ning and Li Hu beat the Japanese pair of Jun Mizutani and Seiya Kishikawa 3-1 in the quarter-finals of the men's doubles competition at the Suwon Gymnasium.

With losing semi-finalists awarded an automatic bronze medal, Gao and Li are guaranteed of a medal.

The last Singaporean male paddler to win an Asiad medal was Yang Zi at the 2006 Doha Games, but that bronze was earned alongside the retired Li Jiawei in the mixed doubles.

"This is the first time that I'm getting an Asian Games medal, I'm really pleased about that," said Li. "We made history at the Commonwealth Games and now we're hoping to make history here, too."

The men are clearly on the up.

At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the men won the first-ever gold in the men's team and men's singles event. And confidence is growing, even if the numbers don't show it.

Some three hours after his doubles win with Li yesterday, Gao fell 4-0 to China's world No. 1 Xu Xin in the quarter-finals of the men's singles.

But it could have been so different.

Gao, ranked 13th in the world, was leading in the first set and lost only after it went to deuce, falling 13-11.

He made it another close affair in the second set, losing 11-9, before being outclassed 11-5, 11-5 in the final two.

NARROW DEFEAT

"If I had won the first set, the result could have been different," lamented Gao.

Gao's teammates also shone in the narrow 3-2 defeat by China in the preliminary Group A match of the men's team event last Sunday.

The two points were earned by Chen Feng and Li Hu, who both beat world No. 2 Fan Zhendong.

Gao and Li will line up against the Chinese pair of Fan and Xu today - the top two players in the world - in the doubles semi-finals.

They will start as the outright underdogs, but they know the Chinese are not unbeatable.

"We will go in with fighting spirit and challenge them," said Gao.

In the women's singles, Feng had to dig deep to see off Japan's diminutive star Ai Fukuhara 4-3 in the quarter-finals yesterday.

After the match, Feng dropped her towel, threw her bat down and slumped in her seat.

The knee injury is still bothering her, and, tomorrow, she will face Zhu Yuling, a Chinese player whom she has not beaten in three previous meetings.

"I'm relieved we have secured a bronze, especially since Tianwei's injury made it extra difficult," said women's team head coach Jing Junhong.

"(Today) we rest, hopefully, Tianwei gets better, then on Saturday (in the women's singles' semis), we fight again."


This article was first published on October 1, 2014.
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