Table tennis: Isabelle Li in tears after semi-final hopes fade

WHILE her opponent raced out of court to celebrate with her coach, Singapore's Isabelle Li had her face buried in her hands.

It did little to mask the paddler's disappointment in losing 11-9, 10-12, 11-7, 12-14, 6-11 to Vietnam's Nguyen Thi Nga in the SEA Games women's singles competition yesterday.

While it is technically possible for Li, a two-time silver medallist in this event, to top Group A and make the semi-finals, she admits her chances are slim.

She lies second in Group A. To get to the last four, she has to beat Laotian Seangdavieng Douangpanya today and count on Myanmar's San Khin Kaung - winless so far - to beat Nga.

Fighting back tears, the defensive specialist said: "I think my chances are actually gone. For my singles, it ends here."

Li trounced Nga 3-0 the last time they met at the South-east Asian Championships in November. Yesterday, she held match points while Nga's coach was sent off for giving instructions from the sidelines.

Li should have had the upperhand but never felt at ease. With Nga relentless in attack and riding high after winning several crucial points, Li was constantly being pushed far behind the court.

She said: "I wasn't feeling very good (mentally) and I made a lot of mistakes and my opponent was playing well too. She was attacking very fiercely (and) I was a little too defensive on my part."

National women's team head coach Jing Junhong said Li was weighed down by the hopes of winning at least a third straight silver - this time, on home soil.

"Despite leading at many junctures, Isabelle was never able to relax," she noted. "If, as a defensive player, you allow your opponent to get used to the spin of your shots and your rhythm, you end up playing very passively."

MAY CHEN

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