Day of shocks for Singapore as WTT Grand Smash main draw begins
The Republic's paddlers had a mixed day as the World Table Tennis (WTT) Grand Smash main draw began on Friday (March 11).
World No. 9 Feng Tianwei crashed out, losing to China's 18-year-old starlet Kuai Man, who won 3-1 (11-9, 5-11, 11-9, 11-6) and progressed to the second round where she will meet compatriot and top ranked Sun Yingsha.
Feng, 35, had no answers to her southpaw opponent. Kuai demonstrated the potential that led to her winning the women's singles and doubles titles at last week's WTT Contender Muscat in Oman, jumping 156 places to world No. 131.
The veteran Singaporean, who has three Olympic medals, said: "Even though we were playing for the first time, it seemed like she knew my game well, and it was quite an obvious mismatch in terms of speed and technique.
"I tried my best to mix things up after the time-out in the third game and it's good to know that worked and I won one game. But after that, she got used to my game.
"It's normal for China to keep producing top talents like her. I will do what I can to keep up, but the most important thing is to keep enjoying competing on a big stage like this."
Feng will play in two WTT events in Qatar later this month before returning here to prepare for the Commonwealth Games, where she aims to regain the women's singles crown she last won in 2014.
Compatriot Goi Rui Xuan, 20, had a better day at the office. Since September, the world No. 180 had been to Qatar, Slovenia and Oman, but failed to record a first women's singles win on the WTT circuit in four attempts.
She got her breakthrough on Friday, beating Chinese Taipei's 60th-ranked Cheng Hsien-tzu 3-1 (11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-8) in the first round of US$2 million (S$2.72 million) Singapore Smash. Her reward is a showdown with Japan's world No. 6 Hina Hayata.
Goi said: "I'm really happy to win my first WTT match and that it has happened in the first Grand Smash in Singapore. I'm excited to be able to play in such a big competition with all the top players and it's great I have another singles match to play against a strong opponent."
She picked up the sport when she was eight, and put her Republic Polytechnic sports and leisure management diploma studies on hold in 2018 to compete full-time. A year later, she was promoted to the national team.
Singapore Table Tennis Association chief coach of youth development Jing Junhong said: "Rui Xuan is an all-rounded player with good variations in her serves. Her weaknesses are not so apparent, but she still needs to develop some killer moves to be able to increase her scoring opportunities in matches, and reach a higher level overall."
World No. 62 Lin Ye put aside the disappointment of losing 3-2 (11-8, 5-11, 6-11, 11-7, 11-6) to Hungary's Georgina Pota (No. 52) in the women's singles to partner Zeng Jian to a 3-0 victory in their women's doubles opener. They beat Brazilians Caroline Kumahara and Bruna Takahashiand face Luxembourg's world No. 9 Ni Xialian and Sarah de Nutte next.
Lin, 26, said: "I was unhappy to lose but that doesn't mean I need to let it affect the matches after that. If anything, the defeat motivates me to want to do better in my doubles matches."
In the men's doubles, world No. 128 pair Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh beat unranked teammates Lucas Tan and Beh Kun Ting 3-0 (12-10, 11-3, 11-8) and will face world No. 7 Romanians Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles next.
Poh said: "We're quite versatile and compensate well for each other. Clarence has more experience, he controls the game and rhythm better than me, while I do my best to finish the point."
Meanwhile, local youngsters Wong Xin Ru, Zhou Jingyi and Izaac Quek all suffered 3-0 defeats.
While most of the big names progressed easily - China's world champion Wang Manyu beat Chinese Taipei's Liu Hsing-yin 3-0 (11-6, 11-1, 11-7) while compatriot and men's world No. 2 Ma Long beat Portuguese Marcos Freitas 3-1 (11-5, 5-11, 11-3, 11-5) - there were some shock exits.
Portugal's 62nd-ranked Joao Geraldo stunned Brazil's world No. 3 Hugo Calderano 3-2 (10-12, 11-3, 11-7, 10-12, 11-6) in the evening session. Geraldo, 26, said: "It feels great to come from behind, lose two games 12-10, and still win. I lost two match points against (China's world No. 1) Fan Zhendong in 2018 so this is the biggest win of my career for sure.
"Hugo plays a great game further back from the table, so I tried my best to stay at the front so I can play faster returns."
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