Young pair outwit old hands

Young pair outwit old hands
Singapore’s (top, left to right) Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan turned the tables on their more famous team-mates Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu to claim victory in the women’s doubles final.

Hours before Zhou Yihan and Lin Ye won the table tennis women's doubles to claim the first gold of the 28th SEA Games, the duo were just points away from settling for a bronze.

Second seeds in the tournament, the Singaporeans had their backs against the wall in the semi-final against Thailand's Nanthana Komwong and Suthasini Sawettabut. They trailed 0-2 early on, before falling 2-3 behind in the best-of-seven encounter.

The young paddlers summoned the confidence formed after three years of partnership to overcome their seasoned opponents.

They then relied on that same belief to upset their more fancied team-mates Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu, winning 7-11, 11-5, 11-8, 12-10, 3-11, 10-12, 11-7.

Feng and Yu, who are the world No. 4 and No. 13 respectively, are also an established pairing.

They won the 2012 International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Grand Finals title and were bronze medallists at the World Championships this year.

Said 21-year-old Zhou: "We wondered about the possibility of beating Tianwei and Mengyu but were never sure that we would be able to do it."

The world No. 61 admitted that contesting the first medal event of the biennial Games also came with a lot of pressure.

"We were definitely very nervous. To have come back from behind to win the semi-final, and go on to win the title - this was a very hard-earned gold," she added.

An upset looked imminent when Zhou and Lin raced to a 3-1 lead in the match. But their opponents, technically superior and vastly more experienced, forced a deciding rubber.

Said Lin: "Technically, we're not as good so we knew we had to give it our all to have a chance.

"But we're young and the underdogs so there was less pressure on us in a sense."

Said Feng: "Pressure had something to do with (the result), and we also took time to get used to the arena, but it's undeniable that Yihan and Lin Ye played better than us today."

The men added another gold and bronze to the haul when Gao Ning and Li Hu trounced Thai rivals Padasak Tanviriyavechakul and Chanakarn Udomsilp 11-8, 11-8, 12-10, 11-4 in the final.

Clarence Chew and Chen Feng, who were beaten in their semi-final earlier in the day by the same Thai pair, settled for bronze.

Said Gao: "The score may read 4-0 and make it look like an easy victory but every point was hard-fought. It's very easy to lose points consecutively so we can never let up."

The world No. 15 veteran, perhaps in a good mood after getting a first gold out of the way, even sportingly fielded questions in English.

He said: "I'm very happy because it's a gold medal. But tomorrow is a new game. We want more medals for Singapore."

The team enjoyed a fuss-free day overall, with the paddlers also chalking up wins in their opening matches in the singles event.

Isabelle Li, a two-time Games silver medallist, eased past Myanmar's San Khin Kaung 11-4, 11-1, 11-1. Feng beat Filipina Ian Lariba 11-6, 11-6, 11-2.

In the men's singles, Chew beat Phinith Kongphet of Laos 6-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-3 while Gao overcame Tun Myo Min of Myanmar 11-4, 11-3, 11-6.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong extended encouragement to the contingent yesterday.

He said: "I'm very proud of the fighting spirit and tenacity shown by our athletes so far, and also the tremendous support from Singaporeans at all the competition venues.

"Our campaign has just started and there are more exciting days ahead for us. Let's keep pushing on as One Team Singapore!"

maychen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 03, 2015.
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