Unheralded paddler Isabelle does well at World Cup
She may have won just once in three matches at the World Team Cup, but Singapore's table tennis player Isabelle Li did make headlines when she beat a paddler ranked 110 places above her on Friday night.
Yesterday's semi-final against top seeds and defending champions China was true to the form book as third seeds Singapore lost 3-0, but there will be plenty of positives for coach Jing Junhong and Li after the performance in Dubai.
Li created a sensational upset in the quarter-final against fourth seeds Hong Kong when the 20-year-old beat world No. 20 Lee Ho Ching 3-2 in the decider to help Singapore win 3-2 overall.
While China's world No. 1 Ding Ning did bring Li back down to earth with a comprehensive 3-0 win (11-2, 11-6, 11-4) yesterday, the Singapore Sports School graduate told The New Paper she is now more confident when facing the big guns.
"She (Lee) is the highest-ranked player I've beaten so far, and it's a big psychological boost for me that anything is possible if you work hard and dig deep," said Li, who managed to collect herself after letting a 2-0 lead slip in the crucial clash against Lee.
"It's quite common for the scores to go up and down, but after I lost my two-nil lead, I told myself to start the match over again and forget about it, I couldn't let myself be affected."
The Singapore women defended the team bronze at the 2012 Olympics, but after the retirements of Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu, only world No. 5 Feng Tianwei remains from the trio that did so well in the last two editions of the Games.
World No. 13 Yu Mengyu and 130th-ranked Li were drafted in to play alongside 2012 London Olympics women's singles bronze medallist Feng, and the third-place finish will be a confidence boost for the new-look team.
"I'm seeing improvements in my game to know that I'm moving in the right direction," Li said.
"The match against Ding Ning was another great learning experience because I've never played against someone with such speed and skills.
"It shows that I still have a long way to go to the top, but I'm confident of my strategy and I'll keep working towards being a better player."
Shorn of world No. 52 Lin Ye and world No. 62 Zhou Yihan - the China-born duo were ineligible due to residency rules - Jing turned to Li to pick up the slack, and she was satisfied with the result.
Jing told TNP: "I'm very happy we retained our bronze medal from 2013 because it did not come easy as we had to face Hong Kong in the quarter-finals.
"When we went to the decider, Isabelle really stepped up even though we were on the back foot.
"This is a very encouraging result. She was very impressive in her technique and almost every aspect of her game, including her mental strength, has improved.
"I felt there was more value in playing her in the singles match against China, so that she can challenge herself and learn from some of the world's best players ahead of the South-east Asia Games in June."
China will face North Korea in today's final, with Japan and Singapore finishing in joint-third spot.