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Izaac Quek wins respect for sportsmanship at Singapore Smash

Izaac Quek may have lost his first-round men’s singles match at the Singapore Smash on March 11, but he won the respect of his opponent and the appreciative crowd at the OCBC Arena.

The Singaporean, 17, was down two games to one and trailing 2-6 in the fourth game when Egypt’s Omar Assar’s return clipped the edge of the table. The umpire awarded the point to Izaac who immediately spoke up and the point was reversed.

World No. 22 Assar went on to beat the 55th-ranked Izaac 3-1 (3-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-4).

Assar, 32, told The Straits Times: “I saw it was in, the umpire missed it, but Izaac immediately called it in.

“Legends like Timo Boll and Vladimir Samsonov are also well known for their sportsmanship, and it’s impressive that a young player like Izaac has this quality as well.”

While disappointed he could not repeat his stunning run to the singles round of 16 in 2023, Izaac said: “We both saw it and I didn’t think twice about giving him the point. It was definitely the right thing to do.

“For the match, I started off really well. He couldn’t really keep the ball short, so he started pushing it long, and then he was switching things up quite a bit during the match and I couldn’t keep up.

“He’s tall (1.96m), so it’s hard to beat him with wide angles as he can reach both sides really well, and his blocking is really good.

“I wasn’t that patient today, and made a lot of unforced errors.”

His focus is now on the mixed doubles where he and Zhou Jingyi are in the round of 16.

In other matches, Singapore’s Clarence Chew, Ser Lin Qian and Zhou all lost to higher-ranked opponents.

Chew took a game off Boll before the German great won 3-1 (11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 11-5). Ser lost 11-7, 9-11, 11-8, 13-11 to South Korean Suh Hyo-won, whose compatriot Zion Lee beat Zhou 11-3, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9.

There was some joy for the home supporters though, as Josh Chua and Lucas Tan beat Mexican Marcos Madrid and Ecuadorian Alberto Mino 3-1 (11-9, 7-11, 11-3, 11-4) in a battle of two unranked men’s doubles pairs.

Chua and Tan next face South Korea’s world No. 2 Jang Woo-jin and Lim Jong-hoon in the last 16.

Chua, 22, said: “We started playing together from 2022, even though there are many different combinations within the national team.

“We have quite good chemistry and managed to beat a Chinese duo (Niu Guankai and Quan Kaiyuan) in a WTT (World Table Tennis) Feeder event in Bulgaria in 2022.

“To prepare for this match, we studied their singles and doubles matches and observed during our warmup where they usually place their shots, and we are happy to play well in front of the home crowd.”

Tan, 24, added: “We were aiming to win one match here and we achieved that. Against the world No. 2s, we are the underdogs who will try to give a good fight.

“We will try to be ready for the serves and receives and cut down on the unforced errors.”

Meanwhile, most of China’s superstars including defending women’s singles champion and world No. 1 Sun Yingsha, world No. 4 Wang Yidi and men’s world No. 2 Wang Chuqin breezed through the first hurdle of the US$1.5 million (S$2 million) tournament.

South Korea’s 26th-ranked Lee Sang-su continued his giant-killing act by knocking out world No. 4 Lin Gaoyuan 3-1 (13-11, 12-14, 11-8, 11-9) to set up a round-of-32 tie against Assar.

Lee had beaten Chinese great Ma Long at the 2012 Korean Open and Olympic and world champion Zhang Jike at the 2017 world championships, before reaching a career-high world No. 6 in 2019.

He also overturned current world No. 1 Fan Zhendong at the 2023 WTT Champions Frankfurt and posted another victory over Ma at the 2024 World Team Table Tennis Championships as South Korea narrowly lost 3-2 to China in the semi-finals on home soil.

Lee, 33, said: “If I play my best, I know I have a chance to win. The Chinese are also human, so they can be beaten.”

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