Chen Feng is a surprise Olympian
His world ranking is in the 100s, and he had the toughest draw among Singapore's male paddlers at the Asia Olympic qualifiers in Hong Kong.
But, Chen Feng, 22, beat the odds yesterday by defeating teammate Li Hu 4-2 (11-8, 11-8, 6-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4) in the South-east Asian competition to grab a men's singles spot at August's Rio Olympics.
He said: "I am very shocked and very happy. I was focused on each match as it came, and to go to the final and win it was totally unexpected for me."
Chen Feng started the day with a tough match against Thailand's Padasak Tanviriyavechakul in the quarter-finals, but won 4-2 (11-5, 10-12, 14-12, 5-11, 11-1, 11-8) to make the last four.
The world No. 149 then whitewashed teammate and world No. 27 Gao Ning 4-0 (11-2, 11-4, 11-7, 11-5) in the semi-finals for an improbable final appearance.
Gao Ning, 33, said: "I didn't play well against Chen Feng and, as my teammate, he was familiar with my play."
Chen Feng then completed his fairy-tale run last night against Li Hu, who beat teammate Yang Zi 4-2 (7-11, 11-8, 11-6, 9-11, 11-4, 11-5) in the other semi-final.
In the South-east Asian women's singles event, Feng Tianwei grabbed the Olympic spot after beating teammate Yu Mengyu 4-0 (11-5, 11-5, 11-4, 11-8) in the final.
Feng, ranked seventh in the world, had earlier beaten Thailand's 2015 South-east Asia Games champion Suthasini Sawettabut 4-0 (11-8, 12-10, 14-12, 11-7) in the semi-finals, while Yu thrashed teammate Zhou Yihan 4-0 (11-8, 13-11, 11-9, 11-3) in the other semi-final.
Feng, 29, said: "I am really relieved now that I have secured an Olympic singles slot. I am very happy now."
The South-east Asian competition is one of five sub-region competitions in the first stage of the Asia qualifiers.
Countries may send a maximum of two paddlers to the second stage, where paddlers from 44 countries will come together in one competition for six Olympic spots in both men and women's singles.
However, Singapore will not be sending any paddlers to the second stage of the qualifiers.
Team manager Ong Xiao Xian said: "According to the Olympic qualification rules, where 22 players will get Olympic spots from the world rankings, and Gao Ning and Mengyu have both qualified.
"Gao Ning has just recovered from his injury, and Mengyu is going to play in the Polish Open, so the Singapore Table Tennis Association has decided not to send paddlers to the second stage of the tournament."
MA BRUSHES OFF 'BAT DOPING' CLAIM
China's world No. 1 Ma Long has played down claims that top table tennis players are illegally doctoring their bats, saying all paddles are checked before matches.
The 27-year-old (above), one of the Chinese stars playing in this week's Asian Olympic qualifiers in Hong Kong, dismissed the idea that players were "doping" their bats with special chemicals.
"I don't think this happens because before the start of each match, there are umpires checking every bat," the reigning world champion told AFP through a translator.
Germany's former world No. 2 Timo Boll has claimed about 80 per cent of international players are doctoring their bats' rubber surfaces to increase the acceleration of the ball, or "catapult effect".
The so-called "speed glue", which makes the ball travel faster and spin more off the bat, was banned by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) in 2008.
"The rubbers are treated with chemicals to increase the catapult effect when hitting," Boll was quoted as saying by a German newspaper earlier this year.
"This applies not only for the Chinese players, but for Europeans and other Asians too."
ITTF president Thomas Weikert has reportedly conceded it's hard to detect speed glue, as the testing process is costly and involves removing rubber from the bats.
"The fact is, at the moment, there is no testing method to detect (Boll's allegations)," he said last month, according to The Straits Times.
"An example of how difficult it is - you need a lot of money and of course the players have to tear off their rubber."
Ma, who wasn't selected for singles at the 2012 Olympics, beat London gold-medallist Zhang Jike yesterday to reach the final of the qualifying event.
"It's obviously every athlete's dream to win an Olympic medal but I haven't had the chance to play yet," he said. - AFP.