New-look team cross 1st hurdle

New-look team cross 1st hurdle
Yu Mengyu (above) was taken to five games by Luxembourg opponent Ni Xialian but stayed composed to beat the veteran. The Singapore squad can expect a tougher challenge when they face South Korea tomorrow.

Singapore got Luxembourg - and their tournament jitters - out of the way yesterday at the World Team Table Tennis Championships, beating their first opponents 3-0.

World No. 7 and the Republic's top paddler Feng Tianwei led the way with an 11-3, 9-11, 11-7, 11-6 win over Sarah de Nutte.

Yu Mengyu, however, was stretched to five games by 50-year-old opponent Ni Xialian.

The Luxembourg veteran, a China-born player, is a former team and mixed doubles champion when she played in China's colours at the 1983 World Championships.

The world No. 18 Singaporean eventually prevailed 10-12, 11-3, 11-5, 8-11, 11-5.

Said national women's team head coach Jing Junhong in a telephone interview from Tokyo where the event is held: "It being their first matches of the tournament, everyone was still playing quite cautiously and took some time to get into the rhythm of their matches.

"Ni Xialian is a very experienced player with a rather unorthodox playing style but Mengyu still stayed calm in her match.

"Technically, she's still a notch above her opponent."

Jing reserved special praise for local-born Isabelle Li who made a successful debut in the tournament with a 9-11, 15-13, 11-5, 12-10 triumph over Tessy Gonderinger.

The world No. 159 Singaporean had never played her unranked opponent before.

Said Jing: "Isabelle lost the first game and was lagging behind in the second, yet managed to make a comeback to win.

"Many of these European players don't play many international games so we don't know their style of play very well. But their standard of play is still there."

Although Singapore breezed through their first tie of the tournament, Jing expects things to get much tougher in the next few days.

The team will play Russia and the Netherlands today before meeting South Korea in what will be the most crucial tie of the group stages tomorrow.

She said: "It's a long journey so, hopefully, the players will adapt fast and do what they're capable of as the tournament goes on."

The men's team had a tough opener, losing 0-3 to world No. 2 Germany.

Said Singapore Table Tennis Association's high performance manager Eddy Tay: "We had nothing to lose against the Germans but our players put up a good fight."

This article was published on April 29 in The Straits Times.

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