BIRMINGHAM - Singapore are through to the Commonwealth Games table tennis women’s team quarter-finals after 3-0 wins over hosts England and then Nigeria on Friday (July 29).
They will meet minnows St Vincent and the Grenadines on Saturday and a win will see them progress as Group 1 winners, which should ensure a more favourable draw for their quarter-final later in the day.
The Republic had dominated this event since table tennis was included in the Games programme in 2002, but suffered their first defeat in the 2018 final against India.
World No. 16 Feng Tianwei, who is the event’s top-ranked women’s player, said: “It’s nice to get a good feel of the environment and experience playing in front of the home crowd on the show table. We managed to overcome the pressure by playing our own game well.
“What is important is we got the job done and advanced to the last eight. I played quite well and I feel the younger players also proved themselves.”
In their first match at these Games, they were not overawed by the sight of hundreds of locals who flocked to Hall 3 at the National Exhibition Centre to watch their compatriots play.
Zeng Jian partnered 17-year-old Zhou Jingyi to beat Charlotte Bardsley and Maria Tsaptsinos 3-0 (11-5, 11-5, 11-9) in the opening doubles match, before Feng, 35, overcame the glare from the hall’s lighting and her opponent’s unique pimpled forehand to beat the 144th-ranked penholder Ho Tin-Tin 3-1 (9-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-2).
World No. 60 Zeng returned to the table to beat the 313rd-ranked Tsaptsinos 3-0 (11-2, 11-6, 11-8) to seal the overall victory.
After getting used to the conditions, things were more straightforward against Nigeria.
Zeng and Zhou breezed past Fatima Atinuke Bello and Offiong Edem 3-0 (11-7, 11-4, 11-1), before Feng tamed Esther Oribamise 3-0 (11-5, 11-9, 11-4).
Zeng then won her fourth match of the day by beating Edem 3-0 (11-3, 11-3, 11-6).
The 25-year-old, who was able to impose her speed and spin, said: “After the SEA Games, I realised it’s normal to be in tight situations and I learnt how to control my nerves and temperament better to focus on each point instead.”
Fellow Games debutante Zhou added: “It’s a good experience. I didn’t really feel nervous because I had a good partner.”
Meanwhile, the Singapore men’s team also opened their campaign with a 3-0 sweep over Northern Ireland on Friday.
Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh beat Zak Wilson and Paul McCreery 3-0 (11-8, 11-7, 11-6) in the opening doubles. Koen Pang then defeated Owen Cathcart 3-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-9) before Chew beat McCreery 3-0 (11-5, 11-6, 11-3).
But they were then overpowered 3-0 by 2018 champions India later in the day. Using the same line-up, Chew and Poh were beaten 3-1 (11-5, 11-5, 9-11, 11-2) by Harmeet Desai and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. Pang pushed Sharath Kamal Achanta but was still lost 3-0 (11-8, 11-9, 11-9), before Chew fell 3-0 (11-7, 11-5, 11-8) to Gnanasekaran.
Singapore's men's national coach Gao Ning lamented: "We played our normal standard against Northern Ireland but we did not perform to expectations against India.
"They are tough opponents, but we were too anxious to close out the points quickly and made too many errors against experienced players who could pull off more variety of shots.
"We should beat Barbados (on Saturday) and progress as group runners-up, which means we will have a tougher quarter-final match. We will do our best to prepare, but what I want the boys to do is stay calm, find solutions at the table and give a reasonable account of themselves."