Never mind that Clarence Chew is the youngest and most inexperienced among the Singapore men's team at the World Team Table Tennis Championships.
Despite his lowly world No. 259 ranking, the 18-year-old debutant has proved over the past week that he can play the unlikely hero, in earning the Republic a place in the last eight yesterday.
The local-born paddler starred in the team's 3-1 round-of-16 win over Sweden yesterday, posting a ruthless 11-8, 11-8, 11-9 victory over world No. 35 Par Gerell, the opposing team's top player.
With world No. 14 Gao Ning earning two more points in his victories over world No. 97 Kristian Karlsson (3-2) and world No. 66 Jens Lundqvist (3-0), Singapore marched on to meet Germany in today's quarter-finals.
Singapore, seeded 15th at the tournament, are ensured of at least matching their eighth-place finish from the last team championships in 2012.
"We knew we had a chance today if Gao Ning could win both his matches," men's head coach Yang Chuanning told The Straits Times over the phone yesterday.
"But Clarence was the key. He really outdid himself in the way he dominated his match. I'm still a bit stunned thinking about it now."
Chew's win yesterday was his second major scalp claimed at the Yoyogi Gymnasium in Tokyo. The left-hander had also taken down world No. 37 Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong two days earlier in the group stage. Added Yang: "Clarence still has room for improvement in terms of his technique, but what is hard to come by is that, for a young first-timer, he has shown the ability to stay calm on the big stage.
"It hasn't been easy on Gao Ning either, since he has the task of taking two points for the team in every tie, but he has borne the burden very well," he said, revealing that Gao had been out with illness for more than a week just days before the championships.
The coach, however, admitted that Yang Zi has disappointed in the championships so far.
The world No. 75 paddler has just one victory after six matches at the event. He was whitewashed 0-3 in four of his losses.
Said the coach: "Yang Zi has not performed to what we expected of him. Thankfully, the young one is filling in for him."
Despite losing 0-3 to world No. 2 team Germany in the group stage, Yang said there is no longer any pressure on the players.
He added: "I think we have already outdone ourselves by making it to the last eight. We don't have anything to lose against Germany."
This article was published on May 3 in The Straits Times.
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