One look at the results might suggest that Yee Herng Hwee breezed through the competition to earn qualification to this year's Youth Olympic Games (YOG) but it felt anything but easy to the Singapore table tennis player.
The 16-year-old was undefeated throughout her matches at the Asia Continental Qualification event in Bangkok, clinching one of four spots available yesterday.
Her one-sided 11-3, 11-5, 11-5, 12-10 victory against Uzbekistan's Regina Kim in the semi-final meant she was awarded one of the first two spots up for grabs without having to go through another round of knock-out matches today.
According to the format of the tournament, the two winning semi-finalists qualify without needing to play the final.
A total of four qualifying spots are available in each of the boys' and girls' singles events.
"It didn't feel easy at all," Herng Hwee, who lost just one game in four matches, told The Straits Times in a telephone interview yesterday.
The match against Kazakhstan's Yuliya Ryabova in the group stages was particularly tricky for the No. 69 in the world Under-18 rankings.
While the Singaporean has a superior head-to-head record (3-1) against Ryabova on the International Table Tennis Federation circuit, she said she had always been troubled by her Kazakh counterpart.
"I've played her quite a few times and it was tough every time," said Herng Hwee.
"I needed to beat her to finish first in the group and get a bye in the quarter-finals or I would risk playing some of the better players in the last eight, so it was crucial that I won that match."
While relieved that months of chasing a qualification spot in tournaments all over the world yielded success, Herng Hwee knows more hard work lies ahead.
She said: "I'm very relieved but I now have to prepare for the YOG."
Team-mate Yin Jing Yuan came close to earning an early spot to the YOG in the boys' event but lost 5-11, 8-11, 12-10, 9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 6-11 to India's Abhishek Yadav despite a late comeback in his semi-final.
The 17-year-old will have another shot at winning one of the two slots left today.
Each national Olympic committee is allowed to field only two athletes - one each in the boys' and girls' events. Selection for the quadrennial Games is subject to the approval of the Singapore National Olympic Council.
Six have been given the nod so far - two shooters, one taekwondo exponent and three sailors.
This article was published on April 7 in The Straits Times.
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