It was an unexpected Causeway Derby for Singapore in the Commonwealth Games women's table tennis team final at the Scotstoun Sports Campus in Glasgow, Scotland, last night.
And Feng Tianwei and Co made full use of the familiarity with their opponents to deliver the Republic's second gold medal at these Games as they beat Malaysia 3-0 to maintain their stranglehold on an event they have won in every edition since the sport was included in 2002.
"It was a bit of surprise to see Malaysia in the final, but they fully deserved it after beating England and Australia," said national women's table tennis coach Jing Junhong, who as part of the women's team who struck gold in 2002.
"As you know, our training tour in Austria was focused on European opponents with more unorthodox playing styles.
"But we were happy to play Malaysia too because we knew their players well, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and that helped us.
"That said, Malaysia played well, and the crucial factor for us was being able to play well even while under pressure."
Indeed, Malaysia's Ng Sock Khim threatened to make a mockery of the world rankings - Singapore are ranked second in the world, while the Malaysians are a lowly 55th - by winning 11-7 in the first set of the first match against Yu Mengyu.
But the 24-year-old Singaporean kept her nerves to prevail 3-1 (7-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-9).
Team captain and world No. 4 Feng Tianwei, by far the highest-ranking paddler at this Commonwealth Games, eased past veteran Beh Lee Wei 3-0 (11-8, 11-5, 11-4) in the second match.
It was a more keenly-contested third match, as Beh and Ho Ying provided Yu and 18-year-old Lin Ye a sterner test.
The Malaysians were narrowly beaten 11-9 in the first game, but rebounded to take the second set 13-11.
But the class of Yu and Lin told as they won the next two sets 11-9 and 11-5 to ensure Singapore's quest for an unprecedented seven Commonwealth Games table tennis gold medals got off to a rousing start.
"I think we delivered. There were times when the opponents made it difficult for us, but we pulled through," said the 27-year-old Feng.
Singapore won six out of the seven gold medals on offer four years ago in India, losing only the men's doubles gold to the hosts.
What was pleasing to Jing was also how all five female paddlers, including Isabelle Li, 19, and Zhou Yihan, 20, got a run-out in their encounters against Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Canada, India and then Malaysia, losing only one point in the semi-finals against the Indians.
"This is definitely good for the future of Singapore table tennis," added Jing.
"To play and win at a major Games will boost their confidence for the upcoming singles and doubles events.
"I was particular pleased with Mengyu because of the way she bounced back from losing a match against India.
"She was too careful with her serving and attacks, allowing her opponent to take advantage, so I told her to use more positive words to encourage herself. And she did it.
"Overall, you can call this victory an Asian Games warm-up for the women's team because the field will be a lot stronger in Incheon with China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong there to increase the quality of the field, but let's take it one step at a time.
"We have observed and identified up-and-coming opponents and potential challengers from India and Australia for the singles and doubles events, and we hope to add more gold medals to Team Singapore's haul over the next few days."
Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah said: "I am very proud of our young team, who did not disappoint us. This is our first table tennis gold here and we will take it one at a time. Thanks to all the Singaporeans who are supporting us."
At press time yesterday, Singapore's men team were playing Nigeria for a place in today's men's team final.
If Gao Ning and Co win, they will take on India or England in the final tonight at 8.30pm.
This article was published on July 28 in The New Paper.
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