Pang ready to face Boll after stunning Tsuboi

Singapore's top male player Koen Pang paid scant regard to the gulf in rankings as he upset Brazil's 38th-ranked Gustavo Tsuboi 4-2 (8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 13-11, 9-11, 11-8) to reach the last 32 of the World Table Tennis Championships in Houston on Wednesday.

For his efforts, the world No. 161 Pang, 19, earned a match-up with his idol - former world No. 1 Timo Boll - in the next round. The 40-year-old German, now ranked 11th, has four Olympic medals and eight World Championship medals, including a men's singles bronze in 2011.

Despite undergoing National Service and having to play in the men's singles and mixed doubles, Pang showed no signs of fatigue or rustiness and took the game to the 36-year-old Tsuboi, who had reached the last 16 at Tokyo 2020.

He told The Straits Times: "We analysed him well, came up with a game plan and stuck to it. He likes to serve quick, long balls and play at speed, which I had to keep up with. I also tried to change the placement of the balls whenever I could to disrupt his momentum and mess up his game and it worked today.

"I'm ecstatic to beat a higher-ranked player and excited to play Timo, whom I have watched play since I was young.

"Playing in two events is not a problem as I have played more matches on the junior tour."

Pang's fine form has extended to the mixed doubles. He and Lin Ye, ranked 68th as a pair, overcame Egyptian world No. 23s Yousra Helmy and Khalid Assar 3-2 (8-11, 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 11-7).

Yesterday, they downed Turkey's world No. 93s Ibrahim Gunduz and Sibel Altinkaya 3-2 (11-7, 11-13, 11-7, 10-12, 12-10) and will face Chinese Taipei's world No. 2 duo Lin Yun-ju and Cheng I-ching in the round of 16.

Men's singles coach Gao Ning said: "Koen was in good form in terms of returning serves today and showed good game control.

"We will manage his recovery as he is still involved in the mixed doubles. Against Timo, he will need to brush up on his defence."

In the women's singles, Singapore's world No. 11 Feng Tianwei survived a scare to beat Chinese Taipei's 169th-ranked Li Yu-jhun 4-2 (7-11, 9-11, 13-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7).

The 35-year-old will face South Korea's Suh Hyo-won in the round of 32. The world No. 22 has a 7-4 head-to-head record against Feng.

She said: "I wasn't used to the opponent's style of play in the opening rounds and couldn't adapt. Taking the third game was crucial because it would have been difficult to come back from 3-0 down.

"Overall I feel positive that I was able to come from behind and win. I was on an even keel and didn't panic."

Her coach He Keyi added: "Tianwei displayed good mentality against an aggressive opponent today. I told her not to focus on the end result, but to go out there and show what she was capable of. Eventually she got into the groove and was able to pick on her opponent's weaknesses.

"For the next match, Suh is a defensive chopper, so Tianwei has to be patient and play her own game."

In other matches, world No. 193 Goi Rui Xuan lost 4-1 (11-8, 11-7, 11-5, 11-13, 11-5) to Thailand's 39th-ranked Suthasini Sawettabut, while world No. 61 Lin was beaten 4-0 (11-7, 11-9, 11-4, 11-3) by world No. 1 and Olympic champion Chen Meng of China.

But there was better news for Goi in the women's doubles as she and Wong Xin Ru, ranked 69th as a pair, beat India's 103rd-ranked Madhurika Patkar and Sutirtha Mukherjee 3-0 (11-3, 11-7, 11-4).

They will meet German world No. 18s Sabine Winter and Nina Mittelham in the last 32.

David Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2021, with the headline 'Pang ready to face Boll after stunning Tsuboi'. Subscribe