Gao and Pang reach final in first attempt

National paddlers Gao Ning and Pang Xue Jie drew positives from their first men's doubles outing together at the Thailand Open, reaching the final as an unseeded pairing before losing 16-18, 6-11, 9-11 to Japan's Kenji Matsudaira and Jin Ueda yesterday.

The third-tier International Table Tennis Federation Challenge Series event was Pang's first competitive outing since he decided to turn professional in February.

The 24-year-old also reached the men's singles last 16 but lost in straight games to India's Amalraj Anthony.

He said: "This is a good sign. This is also the first Open that I've played in two years since enlisting, and it's my best result in both singles and doubles so far."

Still, he admitted the event in Bangkok opened his eyes to more areas of improvement in his game.

He rued the unforced errors he made that cost him and Gao the tight first game.

Pang added: "After that we were pretty demoralised and made quite a few mistakes in the next two games. They were very consistent."

Gao agreed and added that the fifth-seeded Japanese improved the quality of their returns as they won the next two games.

There was more disappointment for the 35-year-old, as he later lost to No. 3 seed Ueda 8-11, 10-12, 11-7, 3-11, 8-11 in the singles final.

The top seed, who is a player-assistant coach for Singapore, last won an ITTF singles title at the 2012 Chile Open but was satisfied with his performance.

"We tried our best," said the reigning SEA Games singles and men's doubles champion (with Li Hu).

"From this tournament, we can see that we need to improve in both singles and doubles."

The world No. 55 and Pang, the 2011 SEA Games doubles gold medallist with now-retired Ma Liang, have teamed up as Li, Yang Zi and Chen Feng are no longer in the national set-up.

The duo will compete at next week's ITTF Asian Championships in Wuxi, China.

Gao said they have no targets for the doubles event apart from strengthening their partnership.

He added: "Xue Jie's performance was not bad today.

"He is a young player with a lot of potential to improve, especially in his shot selection during competitions.

"He will gradually become a better player."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Gao and Pang reach final in first attempt'. Print Edition | Subscribe