TOKYO - No stranger to overcoming higher-ranked opponents, world No. 186 Singapore paddler Clarence Chew claimed another scalp to beat Senegal's world No. 71 Ibrahima Diaw 4-2 (11-4, 4-11, 11-3, 13-11, 3-11, 12-10) in the first round of the Olympic table tennis men's singles event on Saturday (July 24).
Whatever the 25-year-old Singaporean lacked in rankings, he more than made up for it with his experience, boasting more than a decade of international experience since playing at the 2010 Youth Olympics, while Diaw started playing for Senegal only in 2019.
In a largely empty Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium - neither local nor foreign spectators were allowed in due to Covid-19 restrictions - Chew took the early initiative by taking the first game.
However, Diaw, born to a Senegalese dad and Malian mother in France, hit back in the second game of an initially tentative encounter as players had to get used to new rules such as not being able to wipe the table themselves.
Cheered on by an Algerian player and official with cries of Allez, Allez, he raced to a 6-0 lead, leaving Chew turning to his coach - three-time Olympian Gao Ning - in desperation and frustration for a few times, before closing out the frame.
But a little pep talk with Gao worked, as a more aggressive Chew easily took the third game, pulled through the fourth, survived a fightback from Diaw in the fifth, and showed his mettle in the sixth to set up a second-round meeting with Austria's world No. 44 Daniel Habesohn on Sunday.
Before the coronavirus pandemic disruption, Chew had beaten Hong Kong's world No. 20 Wong Chun Ting at the 2020 ITTF World Team Qualification Tournament, bringing to mind his exploits at the 2014 World Team Championships, when he beat Wong and Sweden's top player Par Gerell. Both were top-40 players then while Chew was an 18-year-old debutant.
The southpaw then defeated compatriot Koen Pang at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Doha in March to clinch his ticket to Tokyo, becoming the first Singapore-born paddler to qualify for the men's singles competition at the Games.