Table tennis: Yang Zi bags fifth mixed doubles title

He bags 5th title in mixed doubles, partnering Yu this time to beat Thais

NO MATTER who his partner is, rising to the occasion has never been an issue for Yang Zi. He did it with Zhang Xueling in 2005, Li Jiawei in 2007, Wang Yuegu in 2009 and Sun Beibei in 2011.

Yesterday, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the 30-year-old again showed little performance anxiety as he paired up with his fifth partner in as many SEA Games to win his fifth straight table tennis mixed doubles title.

The South-east Asian king combined with Yu Mengyu yesterday to bulldoze past Thailand's Padasak Tanviriyavechakul and Suthasini Sawettabut, winning 11-7, 11-5, 11-9, 11-6 in what was completely a one-sided contest.

The win continued a remarkable streak stretching from the 2005 Manila Games to the 2011 edition in Palembang. Mixed doubles was not contested at the 2013 Games in Myanmar.

He insisted there are no secrets to his stranglehold on the event. "It's really simple. You just train hard every day," he said.

Yang was the clear pillar of the Singapore side yesterday, making far fewer errors and more potent attacks on their Thai opponents.

Going into the final, Yu said they were well aware of the mission to keep the team's target of sweeping all seven titles on course, but they were also out to avenge their team-mates' loss to the Thai pair in the semi-finals.

Li Hu and Zhou Yihan, Singapore's top-seeded pair, had lost 11-1, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6, 9-11, 5-11, 8-11 in their semi-final.

Having edged the Thais when they met in April's World Championships - the Singaporeans won 11-7, 11-9, 8-11, 8-11, 11-9, 7-11, 13-11 - Yu and Yang thought they could be in for another battle.

Said Yu: "Yang Zi did really well today and I think his form had a positive effect on me."

Yesterday's win makes up for her disappointment in the women's doubles on Tuesday, when she had to settle for silver with Feng Tianwei, after losing to team-mates Zhou and Lin Ye.

She said: "There was some pressure on me after I lost the women's doubles final. But Yang Zi encouraged me and told me not to bring the disappointment from that loss into today's game, and I think I adjusted well."

The table tennis team have three golds, one silver and two bronzes, and will continue their quest today in the singles events.

Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee said the pressure will only increase.

"It's actually more of a burden, with every gold," she said. "Exhaustion will set in as well but we hope that the high that they're feeling and the support will be able to carry them through the rest of the competition."

The paddlers played before a paltry crowd of about 500 in the 10,000-capacity arena yesterday.

Said Lee: "It's a working day, and many people have expressed that they didn't know the Games have started because many banners state that they begin only on June 5."

maychen@sph.com.sg

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