S'pore eye Olympic berths at World Team Table Tennis Championships , Latest Team Singapore News - The New Paper
Team Singapore

S'pore eye Olympic berths at World Team Table Tennis Championships

National table tennis player Izaac Quek had a year to remember in 2023, when he made a name for himself on the international stage.

The 17-year-old won the men’s singles, doubles and team golds at the Cambodia SEA Games, broke into the top 100 in the world rankings, and recorded upsets over a list of higher-ranked players that included world No. 21 Frenchman Alexis Lebrun, Commonwealth Games champion Sharath Kamal Achanta, and Sweden’s men’s doubles world champion Mattias Falck.

That is all in the past now, as the teenager aims for a big goal in 2024 – qualifying for the Paris Olympics.

He said: “The good performances gave me more confidence and the motivation to work harder, but what is important for me is to try and have a mental reset, to not think about all those good matches and try to play as if I’m the underdog in every game, just like last year.

“All my opponents will be older than me and have much more experience than me, so I still have to learn match by match.”

His experiences in 2023 have also given him more self-belief in his skills and he has learnt what it takes to get through crucial moments and points in matches.

Izaac added: “Having all those good tournaments last year, I know very clearly what I have to work on. What’s important for me is hard work during training and trying to focus on my weaknesses and playing every match without pressure.”

An Olympic qualifying spot awaits him and his teammates at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan, South Korea. Eight team spots are up for grabs at the Feb 16-25 tournament.

But with 80 teams vying for only 16 Olympic berths – eight each for the men and women’s teams – the Singaporeans acknowledged that the odds are stacked against them.

The world No. 22 men’s team comprising Izaac, Clarence Chew, Koen Pang and Josh Chua have been drawn into Group 7 with Brazil (No. 8), Slovenia (12), Canada (24) and Malaysia (70).

The 10th-ranked women’s team of Zhou Jingyi, Ser Lin Qian, Zeng Jian and Wong Xin Ru are in Group 7 with Romania (7), Sweden (22), Canada (26) and Serbia (45).

The top three teams in each group will progress to the knockout stage with the eight winners going directly into the last 16. The second and third-placed teams will compete in the next round for the remaining eight spots.

While they will be coming up against higher-ranked opponents, veteran player Chew, 28, is confident in the team’s ability. He, Izaac and 21-year-old Pang were part of the teams that won the 2022 Commonwealth Games silver and 2023 SEA Games gold.

He said: “We’ll have to maintain our fighting spirit and treat ourselves as the underdogs in every match. Even in our group no team are weak, they have the ability to cause us some problems so we have to be well-prepared.

“For us to achieve a top-eight finish would be an unbelievable achievement, especially for such a young team.”

Ahead of the world team tournament, the players competed in the World Table Tennis Star Contender in Doha and Goa, and had a two-week training camp in Shimada, Japan.

Wong, 22, is ready to put into practice what she has learnt over the past two years since the last world championships, where the team qualified for the quarter-finals.

She said: “Everyone is going to go there with the same goal in mind and everyone is going to be nervous, so it’s about who can calm their nerves and perform under pressure.”

The Singaporeans will get another chance to qualify for individual events at the Olympics if the teams fail in their bid for the Paris Games, though the qualification format has yet to be confirmed.

Chew, who competed at the Tokyo Olympics, wants another shot on the world’s biggest sporting stage. He said: “It was an unforgettable experience...

“There is a different level of pressure and you can feel the difference in the magnitude of the Games.

“The Olympics are the holy grail of sport and the ultimate goal for many professional athletes. The previous one was during Covid-19, so this time with the spectators, I feel like it would be an even more unbelievable atmosphere.”