The extensive work put into mixed doubles in preparation for the SEA Games this year paid big dividends yesterday for table tennis players Yang Zi and Yu Mengyu.
The unseeded duo upset second seeds Fang Bo and Mu Zi of China 11-9, 11-8, 7-11, 12-10 at the Asian Championships to earn a place in today's quarter-finals.
The result brought some cheer to the Singapore side after both the men's and women's team events did not go as hoped.
Yang and Yu, the SEA Games mixed doubles champions, will play Hong Kong's sixth seeds Jiang Tianyi and Lee Ho Ching next.
National women's head coach Jing Junhong told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Pattaya, Thailand: "We spent a lot of time in our training for the SEA Games in June working on mixed doubles, and these two have built up a very good partnership from that.
TEAM SINGAPORE RESULTS
Clarence Chew/Goi Rui Xuan bt Zokhid Kenjaev/Olga Kim (Uzb) 11-4, 11-8, 11-9
Chew/Rui Xuan lost to Wong Chun Ting/Doo Hoi Kem (Hkg) 6-11, 7-11, 5-11
Yang Zi/Yu Mengyu bt Sanil Sheey/ Manika Batra (Ind) 11-9, 11-2, 11-5
Yang/Yu bt Fang Bo/Mu Zi (Chn) 11-9, 11-8, 7-11, 12-10
Eunice Lim/Yee Herng Hwee bt Aidai Ermekova/Burulai Seidalieva (Kgz) 11-2, 11-4, 11-1
Chew/Pang Xue Jie bt Duong Van Nam/Le Tien Dat (Vie) 11-7, 11-6, 7-11, 11-7
Gao Ning/Yang Zi bt Donald Jachson Paleba/Gilang Ramadhan (Ina) 11-8, 11-2, 11-9
Singapore 0 Chinese Taipei 3
Rui Xuan lost to Cheng Hsien-tzu 7-11, 4-11, 1-11
Eunice lost to Liu Hsing-yin 5-11, 7-11, 11-3, 3-11
Herng Hwee lost to Huang Yi-hua 6-11, 5-11, 8-11
Singapore 0 Hong Kong 3
Chew lost to Ho Kwan Kit 7-11, 8-11, 7-11
Pang lost to Wong Chun Ting 11-5, 7-11, 7-11, 3-11
Edric Lim lost to Lam Siu Hang 6-11, 7-11, 9-11
"It showed in their match today, and it helped too that they weren't afraid to take it (the game) to their higher-ranked opponents."
But with barely an hour between the end of the mixed doubles match and the play-off for seventh in the women's team competition, and the individual events still to come this week, Yu was rested in the team tie against Chinese Taipei.
With top paddler Feng Tianwei also out nursing a back sprain, it fell to the young trio of Yee Herng Hwee, 18, Eunice Lim, 15, and Goi Rui Xuan, 14, to take on the Taiwanese.
Yee is ranked 447th, Rui Xuan 624th and Eunice 652nd.
They were whitewashed 3-0.
The men's team, fifth at the last edition, finished sixth after losing 0-3 to Hong Kong yesterday.
Said Jing: "Eunice took a game against her opponent, and Rui Xuan also had a promising start. Technically, there is a huge gulf between them and their opponents but they didn't cower from the challenge and fought hard for every point."
This is the first time since 2007 that Singapore are returning from the Asian Championships without a women's team medal.
International Table Tennis Federation regulations prohibited Singapore from fielding their best. Foreign-born paddlers have to sit out a stipulated number of years before they can play at events like the continental championships and World Championships - but not the Olympics. This meant Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan, world No. 51 and No. 73 respectively, did not participate.
When asked how representative the result was, given that the Rio Olympics is less than a year away, Jing said: "On the surface, the team result might seem negative and there is bound to be disappointment but we came into the tournament knowing what could happen.
"With three very young and inexperienced players on the team, once either Tianwei or Mengyu is out, it's a huge blow to us.
"There is of course some cause for concern and we will return home after this with a lot of results to review, but the result is also not completely representative."
Singapore won a bronze at the last Olympics in London.
The Asian Table Tennis Union decided in a meeting yesterday that teams will be able to send four paddlers to the Asian qualifier in Hong Kong next April, instead of just two.
Each national Olympic committee can have a maximum of two athletes entered for the singles event through the qualifier. Said Jing: "We'll definitely send our best there to fight for the spots. This will not affect our confidence in preparing for the Olympic Games."
Day 5: StarHub Ch203, 6pm