Lin, Zhou pull off big shock

Young S'pore doubles duo stun strong Chinese rivals to reach final in Japan Open

As unheralded, unseeded and lower-ranked rookies, Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan were under no illusions about their Japan Open doubles semi-final yesterday against China's Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, the top two players in women's table tennis.

World No. 1 and Olympic silver medallist Ding is a two-time winner of the World Championships and World Cup while No. 2 Liu has lifted the World Cup three times.

Although the duo are not frequent doubles partners, they had still triumphed in the event in last year's China Open.

Repeat winning formula

"The Chinese are technically better than us and they will have to play as boldly and calmly as they did today."

JING JUNHONG, Singapore coach, on the chances of Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan in the women's doubles final against China's Liu Fei and Wu Yang

All Lin and Zhou wanted was to put in a good showing and see where they stood against the world's best.

To their surprise and delight, they succeeded far beyond their expectations, as they shocked Ding and Liu 11-8, 11-6, 11-8 to book a place in today's final.

Lin, 19, told The Sunday Times in a phone interview from Kobe: "We never thought we'd be able to beat them so easily.

"Even though they're the best players in the world, we didn't feel any pressure. We just wanted to put it all out there - that was probably the key to the result."

Added Zhou, 21: "I was able to let loose and didn't think too much about the result.

"We stuck to our strategy."

The duo will meet another Chinese pair, Liu Fei and Wu Yang, in an attempt to win their first title together on the International Table Tennis Federation professional circuit.

They finished runners-up in their first final in February's Qatar Open.

National women's head coach Jing Junhong said the Chinese pair were not prepared for their less illustrious opponents yesterday.

She said: "Lin Ye and Yihan were very bold in taking the game to their opponents, taking the initiative to attack and exploited their opponents' weak points well.

"Ding and Liu probably viewed them a little lightly and didn't expect us to play so aggressively."

Lin and Zhou had also won their quarter-final against third seeds Lee Ho Ching and Tie Yana from Hong Kong yesterday.

Jing said Lin and Zhou had put in a lot of work to prepare for the SEA Games, and that had helped to yield results.

Indeed, it was this partnership that defeated highly fancied team-mates Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu for the women's doubles title at the Games earlier this month.

But while the team celebrated Lin and Zhou's success yesterday, the news was tempered by the fact that Feng and Yu, the Japan Open top seeds, were beaten in their quarter-final 8-11, 9-11, 20-18, 7-11 by Hong Kong's Doo Hoi Kem and Jiang Huajun.

Jing is also fully aware that, with a pair of Chinese defensive specialists awaiting in the final, the job for Lin and Zhou is far from done.

She said: "Winning this match is a good result but it doesn't mean they are now shoo-ins for the title.

"The Chinese are technically better than us and they will have to play as boldly and calmly as they did today.

"But the result is not that important.

"Having chalked up two wins against notable opponents today will be a very big psychological boost for Lin Ye and Yihan and their long-term partnership."

maychen@sph.com.sg

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'Lin, Zhou pull off big shock'. Print Edition | Subscribe