A fine debut for Li

A fine debut for Li

The new-look Singapore women's team passed their first test at the World Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo yesterday, albeit against minnows.

Feng Tianwei and Co. beat 26th-ranked Luxembourg - the third-lowest ranked nation in the 24-team tournament - 3-0 in their first tie in Group C.

The scoreline did not tell the full story, after world No. 18 Yu Mengyu and 19-year-old Isabelle Li were pushed hard in the second and third singles, respectively.

World No. 7 Feng beat Sarah de Nutte 11-3, 9-11, 11-7, 11-6 in the first singles but Yu was stretched by Ni Xialian in the second match before posting a 10-12, 11-3, 11-5, 9-11, 11-5 win.

Li then confirmed victory for the team ranked No. 5 in the world, after a 9-11, 13-11, 11-5, 12-10 win over Tessy Gonderinger.

Speaking to The New Paper after the match, national women's head coach Jing Junhong said: "The team's performance today was not bad; as a team we are better than them, but we were a little slow in finding our rhythm since it was our first match, but we managed in the end.

"Isabelle had to overturn a 2-8 deficit in her second game and it was probably the turning point for her match."

This year's world championships - which alternate between singles and team events every year - is the first for the Singapore women's team after the retirements of stalwarts Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu.

Sun Beibei is still on the comeback trail after giving birth last June.

The women's team stunned mighty China to clinch the world in 2010 and finished second to the sport's powerhouses in the 2012 final.

Expectations are lower for the new-look outfit this year, with local-born paddlers Li and Yee Herng Hwee making their debut in the competition.

Tougher tests in the group - including a meeting with world No. 3 South Korea - loom later in the week, but first the women will face Russia and Holland today.

On Russia, Jing said: "We don't know much about them and we will be studying videos from their matches today.

"They have two defensive choppers, and they are not bad a team in Europe, so we have to take the fight to them.

"Each tie after today is just going to get more and more difficult."

There was no good news from the men's camp, after the Singapore team fell 3-0 to Germany in their opening Group B encounter yesterday.

The men will face Ukraine today.

sayheng@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 29 in The New Paper.

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