Singapore's national paddlers ended a six-year medal drought in the team event at the Asian Table Tennis Championships yesterday after clinching a bronze at the 24-team competition in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
The team of Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye and Goi Rui Xuan, who are seeded seventh, had earlier topped their group which included Sri Lanka and Maldives to set up a quarter-final clash against fourth-seeds South Korea.
The Singaporeans fought valiantly to score a 3-1 upset against the trio of Jeon Jihee, Suh Hyowon and Yang Haeun. But they found China too strong in the 3-0 loss in the semi-final.
Singapore women's team head coach Hao Anlin praised his players for their upset win in the last eight, as the paddlers also exacted revenge for their loss to the Koreans at the same stage of last year's Asian Games in Indonesia.
"South Korea are one of our tough competitors and our level of play is of a similar standard," he said.
"We lost to them at last year's Asian Games, but this time we brought our best game. It was not easy to beat the Koreans and our team fought point by point to beat them."
Hao also lauded his paddlers for playing "exceptionally well", including world No. 63 Lin, who stunned 20th-ranked Jeon, 11-9, 11-4, 11-6.
"She was calm throughout the match and her tactics were also right against Jeon," he added.
Lin carried this confidence into the semi-finals, where she took the first game 11-9 against world No. 1 Chen Meng.
But Chen, a three-gold Asian champion, rallied to win the next three sets 11-8, 11-6 and 11-7 for China's first point.
World No. 2 Ding Ning then defeated Feng (No. 12) 13-11, 11-6, 11-0 before Wang Manyu wrapped up the tie with a 11-4, 11-7, 11-5 win over 18-year-old Rui Xuan to book their berth in the final.
The mighty Chinese were unstoppable in the title match against Japan, routing their opponents 3-0 to clinch their seventh straight team title at the Asian meet. Japan had to settle for silver, with Singapore and Chinese Taipei awarded the joint-bronze.
Said Hao: "We were the underdogs against China and the main objective was to let our younger players (like Lin and Rui Xuan) gain valuable experience against the world's best players."
The coach added that the focus for his players now was to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Only the winners of the team event at the Asian championships earn a spot in next year's Olympics, so Singapore are aiming to qualify at the world team qualification event in Gondomar, Portugal, from Jan 22-26, where nine spots are up for grabs.
"We need to focus on our opponents' play and prepare for them," said Hao. "Our players also need to prepare themselves physically and psychologically, and maintain a positive attitude."
The women's team bronze is the third for Singapore in the event at the Asian meet, after similar finishes in 2003 and 2013. They also won the women's team silver in 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Singapore's only gold medal at the Asian championships was bagged by the men's doubles pair of Gao Ning and Yang Zi in 2012.