Yu's up to the task

Yu's up to the task

With seven wins out of seven at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Japan, there is no doubt world No. 7 Feng Tianwei is playing the role of inspirational captain for the Singapore women's team.

But, if Feng is the general, then world No. 18 Yu Mengyu is fast becoming an able lieutenant.

Or a "super killer", as her coach Jing Junhong called the 24-year-old, after her impressive 3-1 win over South Korea's No. 1 and world No. 8, Seo Hyowon.

That paved the way for the Olympic bronze medallists to post a 3-1 victory over the third seeds and seal Singapore's spot in the quarter-finals as Group C winners.

The second- and third-placed teams in each of the four groups will have to go through the Round of 16 to fight for a place in the last eight.

"This is Mengyu's first key role in a major world team championship, and she's doing very well," said Jing, the 45-year-old former Singapore international.

"Against Luxembourg, Russia, Holland and now South Korea, she has been playing their top-ranked player.

"By beating all of them, it sets us up well because with Tianwei's win, it gives us a 2-0 lead, the psychological edge for the rest of the match, and puts the opponents under pressure."

Stepping up following the retirement of veterans Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu, it has been a very good six months for Yu, who led a young team to the South-east Asia Games gold last December, before finishing third at the Asian Cup in China in March.

Against Seo, she did well to recover from losing the second set 13-11 despite leading 8-2, and confidently took the next two sets.

Speaking to The New Paper last night, Yu said: "The pressure to perform is definitely there, and it's definitely not easy playing against all the top players.

"But I'm happy to play and my confidence is so much better.

"Perhaps I'm maturing with age, but I've also learnt a lot playing for Ordos in the China Super League where we play against top Chinese paddlers week-in, week-out."

The women will play France today in their final group game, but cannot be overtaken by the Koreans even if they lose.

With 19-year-old Isabelle Li - the world No. 159 - still to come to terms playing against the world's best - she's won once and lost three singles - Feng has often had to play two matches against each nation.

CAPABLE

After being taken to the wire by world No. 21 Yang Haeun and emerging with a 3-2 win in the opening match against the Koreans, the 27-year-old came back to the table to beat Seo 3-1 to seal the overall victory.

The Singapore women's team have two second-placed finishes and one world title at the biennial competition in the last three editions, and the new-look outfit look capable of at least making the last four in Tokyo this year.

Coach Jing said: "We used to have trouble beating choppers like Seo, but our 44-day centralised training in Taiwan helped, because we specially arranged to train with sparring partners who are specialised choppers.

"It's great we have this breakthrough and two points against a chopper.

"It won't get easier now that we are in the quarter-finals, but we still have a group match against France to get ready.

"There is the possibility of us fielding our youngster Yee Herng Hwee, but we will have to think about the big picture and decide what's best."

davidlee@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 1 in The New Paper.

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