S'pore progress to World Team Table Tennis C'ships play-offs, Latest Team Singapore News - The New Paper
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S'pore progress to World Team Table Tennis C'ships play-offs

The mood among the Singapore men’s and women’s table tennis teams could not have been more different as they marched into the competition arena at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan on Feb 20.

Already assured of a spot in the play-offs, a confident men’s team came up against Canada in their final group stage match, while a tense day awaited the Singaporean women, who were facing a shock elimination which would also destroy their chances of qualifying for the Paris Olympics.

A day of contrasts eventually ended in joy and relief – particularly for the women’s trio of Zeng Jian, Zhou Jingyi and Wong Xin Ru – as the world No. 10 team recovered from their earlier losses to Sweden (No. 22) and Romania (No. 7) to place third and squeeze into the next round.

Both teams will now compete in the play-offs for a spot in the last 16, with only the top eight men’s and women’s sides earning a spot in the Olympics.

After beating Canada (No. 26) 3-1 a day earlier, the Singaporean women came from behind again to down Serbia (No. 45) by the same scoreline in a must-win match at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Centre on Feb 20.

National women’s coach Jing Junhong said: “We were prepared to go the distance against an evenly matched side and our players did well to step up to the challenge.

“Zeng Jian was confident and did well to win two points for us while Xin Ru delivered a crucial point for us today. Jingyi lacked that bit of confidence which showed in her handling of crucial points against experienced players.”

“Overall, we are playing better as the tournament goes. Romania are superior to us, while it was a 50-50 match against Sweden. Despite the two early defeats, our players displayed their fighting spirit to meet the target of making it past the group stage, and will continue to battle to go as far as we can in the knockout rounds.”

Against Serbia, world No. 103 Zhou lost 11-8, 11-8, 11-7 to 112nd-ranked Sabina Surjan before Zeng Jian (No. 60) beat Izabela Lupulesku (No. 148) 9-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-3.

Wong (No. 128) calmed her team’s nerves with a steely 11-8, 14-12, 11-9 win over Andrea Todorovic (No. 147) despite falling behind in all three games, paving the way for Zeng to seal a 11-5, 14-12, 12-14, 11-4 victory over Surjan.

Zeng said: “I was nervous when we were down 0-1 but I told myself to be resolute to hold the fort as my team needed me to win the points to stay in contention. If we want to realise our Olympic dreams, we need to give our all to play every match.”

Off the court, The Straits Times understands that Singapore lodged an appeal to the tournament jury following the women’s team 3-2 loss to Sweden on Feb 17.

Trailing by a game in the decider, Zhou appeared to have saved a fifth matchpoint against Christina Kallberg to make it 10-10 when, under pressure from the Europeans, the assistant umpire overruled the umpire to hand the point and match to Sweden. 

Despite Jing’s request, the referee did not enter the court to deal with the issue and the Swedes hastily left with the result in their favour.

Team manager Eddy Tay noted the jury acknowledged that the umpires had interpreted the rules wrongly and that the point should have been replayed, though the final result still stands.

Jing added that they “can only control what we can and analyse where we fell short”, noting that they tried to refocus on their other matches against Canada and Serbia.

While the road to the play-offs was a rough one for the women, the 22th-ranked Singapore men’s team of Koen Pang, Izaac Quek and Clarence Chew had a more straightforward campaign in the group stage.

They beat Canada 3-0 on Feb 20 to place second behind world No. 12 Slovenia and ahead of world No. 8 Brazil.

National men’s coach Gao Ning said: “We have been playing quite well, but will need to maintain our high level of focus and tactical analysis to prepare for a more difficult next phase.”

Chew added: “There will be tougher opponents in the knockout stage, so we definitely have to up our game as we maintain our momentum. Every team are fighting for the same goal to qualify for the Olympics, we are still the underdogs and it is important for us to continue to bring the same fighting spirit to the table as we have done.”

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