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Ser Lin Qian finishes second in WTT Youth Star Contender

It is understandable for anyone to feel intimidated when taking on a promising Chinese table tennis player.

But taking on board the advice from her coach Jing Junhong, who reminded her that they are not unbeatable, Singapore’s Ser Lin Qian eliminated three Chinese players before finishing second in the Under-19 girls’ singles event at the US$15,000 (S$20,000) WTT Youth Star Contender on March 17.

The 17-year-old, who earned US$800 for her efforts at the OCBC Arena, told The Straits Times: “My coach told me to treat them like any other opponent, and not think of them as undefeatable because they are from China. That struck me and I became more daring on court.”

She had stunned U-19 girls’ singles world No. 5 Xu Yi 3-1 (11-13, 12-10, 12-10, 11-6) in the round of 16 before sweeping 19th-ranked Zong Geman 3-0 (11-3, 11-9, 11-9) in the quarter-finals.

The 2022 Singapore Sportsgirl of the Year, ranked 141st, then rallied for a rousing 3-2 (7-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-6) win over Zhang Xiangyu (62nd) in the semi-finals.

Lin Qian however, lost 3-0 (11-7, 11-2, 12-10) to another Chinese, Qin Yuxuan, in the final. She had also fallen in straight games to the world No. 10 in the group stage.

The first-year Ngee Ann Polytechnic business student had previously won Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 WTT Youth Contender titles in Europe and was an Under-15 bronze medallist at the 2021 world youth championships.

She said: “I played very well in every game, I thought about every ball, executed what I can, and I’m very glad to achieve this result.

“It may seem scary to have a target on my back now but this is what makes sports interesting and competitive.

“They will definitely analyse my strengths and weaknesses but this motivates me to train more to cover up weaknesses and this is a challenge I actually enjoy.”

Meanwhile, the last day of the US$1.5 million Singapore Smash main event featured all-China finals.

In Mandarin, wang means the monarch, and on March 17, Wang Chuqin and Wang Manyu reigned supreme as they claimed the men and women’s singles title respectively. Each earned US$60,000 for their victories.

World No. 3 Wang Manyu has often lived in the shadows of the higher-ranked and more popular Sun Yingsha and Chen Meng.

But with undeniable talent and sheer grit, she grabbed her chance as a Tokyo Olympics reserve to claim a women’s team gold after she replaced Liu Shiwen in 2021, before she became the women’s singles world champion that year.

It has been the same storyline here as she grew from strength to strength to beat world No. 4 Wang Yidi 4-1 (11-8, 11-5, 11-4, 7-11, 11-1) and give her Paris Olympics selection ambitions a huge boost as she is set to displace Chen as the world No. 2.

The 25-year-old, who also won the women’s doubles final with Chen, said: “This singles title is one which I coveted, and I’m very happy to finally get my hands on it.

“I’ve had to overcome some difficulty which included the first round (a 3-2 win over India’s Sreeja Akula) and coming back from 2-0 down in the quarter-final against Mima Ito. As my mentality grew stronger in the tournament, so did my fighting spirit. My strokes became more free-flowing and they were consistently of a high quality.”

Wang Chuqin also delivered top-notch table tennis and was almost unplayable in the long rallies against world No. 5 Liang Jingkun to win 4-1 (11-6, 11-8, 13-11, 9-11, 11-6).

The 23-year-old, who is set to leapfrog countryman Fan Zhendong to become the new world No. 1, said: “I was very in the zone and didn’t think about the final result because I actually don’t have a good record against Liang Jingkun recently.

“Even though I won, there are still areas for me to review and improve on regardless of the results and rankings.

“I have more goals other than winning the Singapore Smash, so I’ll be back in training after I fly home tomorrow.”

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