Singapore men's table tennis team draw a blank in opening round of world championships
But young paddlers provide a silver lining
The Singapore men's table tennis team finished last in Group C at the World Team Table Tennis Championships here in Shah Alam after their 3-1 loss to Ukraine in their final match yesterday.
The paddlers are now out of the reckoning for a top-12 finish, the first time it has happened since 2010, when they eventually finished 16th.
But Clarence Chew, 20, said breaking into the top half of the 24-team Championship division this year was always going to be tough, with the composition of the group and Gao Ning's injury.
Singapore were grouped with world No. 3 Japan, 2014 European team champions Portugal, Poland, Ukraine, France and Belarus, and finished the first round without a win.
Top paddler Gao Ning injured his ankle on the first day of competition and has not played since. He will return to Singapore today.
Said Chew: "I think we performed above our standard in the last two world championships; even with Gao Ning the group this year was already hard enough, but it was more difficult without him around, and we tried our best."
Chew and Co. will now play for positions 13 to 24 in the competition, which ends on Sunday.
One positive from the group stages is that young paddlers Chew, Pang Xue Jie and Ethan Poh have tasted much more action.
Men's national coach Liu Jiayi fielded all three - veteran Yang Zi was dropped - in the 3-0 and 3-1 defeats to Belarus and Ukraine, respectively, over the past two days.
Pang, 22, clinched the win of his career against Japan's world No. 14 Koki Niwa in Singapore's 3-1 loss on Monday, while Chew, world ranked 176, beat Ukraine's world No. 130 Yaroslav Zhmudenko yesterday.
Liu said: "Yang Zi is not really team leader material since he is still recovering his form and is inconsistent.
"If that's the case, why not let the local-born players gain more experience playing against high-quality players, something they are lacking.
"It is better to let the local-born players gain more experience now, while seniors like Gao Ning and Yang Zi are still around, than to have a vacuum when the two eventually retire."
He hopes the trio, along with China-born Li Hu and Chen Feng, can raise their level quickly.
Said Liu: "Clarence can be our No. 1 in the foreseeable future.
"Both his and Chen Feng's form are not bad, but Clarence is more stable in the mental aspect of the game."
- LIM SAY HENG