SINGAPORE – Former boys’ world No. 1s Koen Pang and Izaac Quek notched another milestone by becoming the first local-born national table tennis players to break into the top 100 of the men’s singles rankings.
Teammate Clarence Chew had achieved the previous highest ranking for a local-born male player when he reached 120th in 2022, while Tan Paey Fern was the top-ranked local-born female player when she was 67th in 2006.
In the latest list released by the International Table Tennis Federation on Tuesday, Pang leapt 33 rungs to world No. 98 while Quek surged 141 places to No. 100 on the back of creditable performances at the recently concluded Singapore Smash.
At the elite event, the 20-year-old Pang reached the round of 32 by beating Australia’s 47th-ranked Nicholas Lum before being eliminated by Germany’s world No. 9 Qiu Dang.
Quek went one better, stunning India’s Commonwealth Games champion and world No. 52 Sharath Kamal Achanta.
He then beat Sweden’s 2019 World Championships silver medallist and the 32nd-ranked Mattias Falck to reach the round of 16, where the 16-year-old was beaten by China’s world No. 3 Wang Chuqin.
Pang, who won the SEA Games men’s singles gold and became the first Singaporean to reach the summit of the Under-18 boys’ world ranking in 2019, said: “I feel very proud and delighted to achieve this feat and I will continue to work hard to go further and record more achievements.”
Quek, who was the first Singaporean to top the Under-15 boys’ world ranking list in 2021, added: “I’m really happy with this achievement, but it’s just a ranking and my goal is still to win medals in major Games, so this is a stepping stone for me to reach my targets.”
Both players also combined to soar 126 rungs to a career-high world No. 74 in the men’s doubles.
This came after they beat compatriots and the 47th-ranked Ethan Poh and Chew at the Singapore Smash, before losing to world No. 2 pairing Fan Zhendong and Wang in the round of 16. The Chinese duo were eventual champions.
The China-born Gao Ning, who was the Republic’s highest-ranked men’s singles player when he climbed to ninth in 2008, is now Singapore’s national men’s team coach, and the 40-year-old is proud of the SEA Games-bound duo.
He said: “Koen and Izaac are serious and hardworking players. They work well with the coaches and are receptive to feedback.
“Their fighting spirit is there, but there is room for improvement in terms of technique and big-tournament experience.
“The next step in terms of world ranking would be to work towards the 50-75 bracket. Higher rankings can help the players get into higher-level tournaments and help them get a more favourable draw. The possibility is there, but so is the difficulty.
“The boys did well at the 2022 Commonwealth Games when they won a men’s team silver.
“We demand the same combative spirit from the team at the upcoming SEA Games (in May), where gold medals are not beyond them. They must play with confidence and not be conservative.
“As far as the Paris 2024 Olympics are concerned, our players will try their best to qualify. It is a big goal, but the journey will be a very valuable experience.”