Men's doubles paddlers on course for the final
Singapore's Chew and Chen on course for final duel with top-seeded compatriots
Going into their opening game of the men's doubles at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday, national paddlers Clarence Chew and Chen Feng knew their mission: to get to the final and hope their No. 1 ranked teammates Gao Ning and Li Hu kept up their end of the bargain to set up a battle royale for gold.
Chew and Chen were among the first to taste action on the opening day of table tennis action at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games and they easily dispatched Indonesia's Ficky Supit Santoso and Gilang Ramadhan 3-1 (11-2, 12-14, 11-4, 11-7) in the first round.
Few thought they would be pushed hard in the following round against Richard Gonzales and Rodel Irineo Valle of the Philippines but, within minutes, the Singapore pair were at 8-8 in the first game.
Moments later, controversy erupted when the Singaporeans protested after losing a point, insisting the ball had hit a Filipino hand before a successful return which Singapore turned into the net.
But their opponents and referees, Sutip Pamittasil from Thailand and Phan Anh Tuan from Vietnam, did not think that was the case and Chew and Chen lost the point and, eventually, the game, 11-13, to the Philippine pair.
"The ball clearly hit the opponent's hand, which resulted in the ball taking an unnatural flight," explained the 21-year-old Chen.
"At that point, it was definitely frustrating, because every point counts. We lost that game, but we regrouped and we won the match."
Indeed, after adjusting their tactics - they played more aggressively against the choppers Gonzales and Irineo Valle - and stormed through the next three games (11-6, 11-6, 11-4) to make it today's semi-finals.
Chew relished the experience of being one of the first Singapore athletes to taste action at the SEA Games, which the Republic is hosting again after 22 years.
"There is a certain amount of pressure, but so many people were cheering for us and we quickly got into our groove," said the 19-year-old.
Chew and Chen will meet Thailand's Padasak Tanviriyavechakul and Chanakarn Udomsilp in the semi-finals today.
Singapore's top men's doubles pair Gao Ning and Li, who received a first-round bye, are also through to the final four after making light work of Indonesia's Gilang Maulana and Akhmad Dalang Haruri, winning 3-0 (11-4, 11-8, 11-9) in the quarter-finals.
They will meet Vietnam's Tran Tuan Quynh and Nguyen Anh Tu in the semi-finals today.
Barring any major upsets, it is almost certain to be an all-Singapore final in the men's doubles event and Chen already has his sights on surprising his compatriots.
"We will strive to make it to the final and fight for the gold," he said.