SINGAPORE - Despite their relative youth and inexperience, they put up steely defence all week, faltering only in the semi-final clash against mighty China when they fell 0-3 yesterday.
With that, Feng Tianwei and Co earned a well-deserved bronze at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo – and also some new-found respect from their familiar foes.
National women’s team head coach Jing Junhong told The Straits Times yesterday: “Other teams have always kept their eye on us but everyone knew where we stood this time.
“But our players have shown – both to the world and to themselves – that we are capable of more than others thought.
“You can feel that other countries now view us differently.”
Singapore, the 2010 world champions, were runners-up at the last edition in 2012 but were fifth seeds this time, competing without stalwarts Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu.
Even with the 0-3 trouncing by China yesterday, Jing is proud of her charges’ showing at the championships.
World No. 7 Feng was the only one who managed to take a game off the Chinese but lost 11-8, 8-11, 5-11, 7-11 to Li Xiaoxia. The Singaporean has never triumphed against the world No. 1 and Olympic champion in nine meetings.
Yu Mengyu was beaten 11-6, 11-3, 11-6 by Ding Ning (No. 2).
Isabelle Li lost 4-11, 7-11, 7-11 to world No. 5 Zhu Yuling but showed no signs of being daunted by an opponent of top pedigree.
Jing reserved special praise for world No. 18 Yu, who like Feng, was unbeaten in the tournament until meeting China.
Yu’s seven-match winning streak at the event included victories over higher-ranked players Li Jiao of the Netherlands (No. 12), defensive specialist Seo Hyo Won of South Korea (No. 8) and 2012 World Cup runner-up Elizabeta Samara (No. 26).
Said Jing: “Mengyu really stepped up this time and has shown she has what it takes to be among the world’s elite.
“She has impressed and it’s a good breakthrough for her.
“We did not have the chance to meet teams like Japan and Hong Kong this time but I think, based on the way we played, we would have been able to give them a very good fight.”
Still, the former national paddler was also quick to note that in a year of many tests, this was only the first hurdle crossed and there would always be room for improvement.
Her charges have to build on their experience from Tokyo, before readying themselves for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games later this year.
She said: “It’s back to the drawing board. We have to start from zero again.
“We have to continue to give our all in training, continue to refine our technique and work on keeping the intensity high during tournaments.”
The men’s team, meanwhile, can also be encouraged by local-born paddler Clarence Chew who enjoyed a successful debut at the World Team Championships.
Big wins from the world No. 259 against No. 37 Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong and No. 35 Par Gerell of Sweden helped lift the 15th seeds to a top-eight finish at the event.
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IN THE BIG LEAGUE
Mengyu really stepped up this time and has shown she has what it takes to be among the world’s elite. – Head coach Jing Junhong
PERCEIVED IN A NEW LIGHT
You can feel that other countries now view us differently. – Jing, on the women’s team
This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.
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