Commonwealth Games: Singapore's women paddlers fall to shock 1-3 loss to India in team final

Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan of Singapore in their 1-3 loss to Mouma Das and Madhurika Patkar in the doubles match of the women's team final. India shocked Singapore 3-1 to take the gold. PHOTO: REUTERS
Members of the India team celebrate their gold medal. PHOTO: REUTERS

GOLD COAST - The table tennis team event comprises five matches - four singles and a doubles - but on Sunday night (April 8), one match made all the difference in the Commonwealth Games women's team gold-medal match.

Feng Tianwei, the Republic's triple Olympic medallist and world No. 4, was stunned 11-8, 8-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-7 by world No. 58 Manika Batra in the opening match of the Singapore-India final at the Oxenford Studios.

It set the tone for India to romp to a 3-1 victory and end the Republic's proud streak of winning every women's team gold at the Games since the sport was introduced in 2002 in Manchester.

The silver medal was Singapore's first at these Games but there was no rejoicing.

For so long the star and talisman of the Singapore team, Feng simply found herself outplayed by her younger opponent.

"I played her many years ago and she has changed a lot since then, and I don't train against her playing style... I think she is the only one in the world who uses this style," a solemn Feng, 31, told The Straits Times after the medal ceremony, where India, Singapore and bronze medallists England were handed their medals by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.

"But also, I didn't take advantage when I was leading, I was not calm enough and sometimes slow to adapt on the court."

The 1.8m Batra impressed both physically and mentally. She used a clever strategy, where she confused the Singaporeans with her playing style, keeping her bat close to the table and at an angle for spin, with many of her returns also flat and fast.

Also, she flips her bat mid-play so that opponents find it hard to predict which side of the bat - which determines the spin of the ball - she will use in her returns.

Said the 22-year-old: "I was playing more forehand and they didn't know that I would attack more... I didn't watch her (Feng's) videos before the match, but I trained against her style. It is the biggest victory of my career."

Coaches and players from both teams told ST that the result had a clear domino effect, affecting the mood of both teams.

While Yu Mengyu beat Madhurika Patkar 13-11, 11-2, 11-6 in the second match, India went ahead again after Yu and Zhou Yihan lost 7-11, 6-11, 11-8, 7-11 to Patkar and Mouma Das in the third match.

Yu, 28, said: "They prepared well and they were prepared for our styles, and their mental game was strong. These factors gave them the advantage in the doubles match."

Zhou, 24, added: "Doubles matches are always 50-50, plus the fact that their morale was high after that first match. They scored quite a few lucky points too."

Das noted: "After our win in the doubles, I knew there was a good chance for us (to win the overall tie). Manika played so well in the first match when she beat Tianwei."

Batra returned to the court to beat Zhou 11-7, 11-4, 11-7 in the fourth match and deliver the winning point for India to make Games history.

Reflecting on the whole tie, women's national coach Hao Anlin said: "There were few chances for us to make our move, given their playing styles, and a lot of points were lost in the first three rallies.

"India played above themselves, especially after the first match, whereas we became more panicky after Tianwei lost the first match."

There is, however, little time for the Singaporeans to mope, as they will return to action for the individual events on Wednesday.

Batra is competing in the women's singles, women's doubles (with Das) and the mixed doubles (with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran).

Asked if the team have Batra figured out after the team final, Feng said: "We would have to go back to look at the videos and see where we have gone wrong."

Ms Fu watched the match with Speaker of Parliament and Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin.

She posted on Facebook: "Happy that Team Singapore achieved our 1st medal... Our girls tried hard and gave their best but the Indian players were just too good."

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