Singapore reach men's table tennis semi-finals after 3-0 win over Canada
BIRMINGHAM - Clarence Chew and Koen Pang summoned tremendous fighting spirit to overcome matchpoints and big deficits to help Singapore beat Canada 3-0 on Sunday (July 31) and reach the Commonwealth Games table tennis men's team semi-finals.
On Monday, they will play England, who beat Cyprus 3-0, for a place in Tuesday's final. The other semi-final will be contested between defending champions India and 2018 finalists Nigeria.
Singapore's victory over Canada was more intense than the scoreline suggests, but it was also a tactical masterstroke of sorts.
National men's team coach Gao Ning decided to field newly formed duo of Koen Pang and Izaac Quek for the opening doubles, instead of the more established world No. 42 Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh.
He said: "This is a 50-50 match-up, so we wanted to see how we can crack Canada. With each player allowed to play a maximum of two matches, this line-up also allows us to use Clarence for the two singles instead."
Despite playing together only this year, the unranked Singaporeans Pang and Izaac beat 347th-ranked Jeremy Hazin and Edward Ly 3-0 (11-7, 11-6, 11-4).
Izaac, 16, said: "There was definitely some nerves in the major Games knockout rounds, playing in front of so many people. But I'm confident in Koen, in our coach's tactics, and I'm happy things turned out according to what we prepared."
Part of the preparations included expecting matches to go the distance, which was exactly what happened for the singles matches.
World No. 133 Chew paid no attention to the gulf in rankings between him and 48th-ranked Eugene Wang, nor the fact that he saved three matchpoints before beating the 36-year-old 3-2 (7-11, 11-5, 9-11, 13-11, 13-11).
The 26-year-old, who collapsed on his back after the win, said: "I didn't notice how many matchpoints I was facing because I was just focusing on every point against a tough and experienced opponent.
"I just kept trying to stay aggressive and find ways to score points. I may be fitter than him, but I still had to stay focused and thankfully I was more decisive in the crucial points and it all worked out."
Similarly, world No. 117 Pang was down two games against 626th-ranked Ly before storming back to win (11-13, 7-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-6) to seal overall victory.
The 20-year-old said: "I played a bit too aggressively in the first two games, I was too anxious in trying to kill the ball and made too many unforced errors. It was a matter of finding a way back, and I was more patient to play the rallies for the last three games against an opponent I played and trained with before."
Since table tennis was included in the Games programme, Singapore have won two gold, one silver and one bronze medal in the men's team event, but lost the bronze-medal play-off to England in 2018.
Gao said: "I'm very pleased with our team's fighting spirit today and hope we will be able to do more of the same tomorrow.
"We will be underdogs against England, and thus shouldn't feel any pressure. Hopefully they are the ones feeling stressed playing in front of the home crowd. With good preparation, I hope we can be ready to capitalise."