Table tennis: S’pore’s Izaac Quek stuns Swedish star Mattias Falck in Singapore Smash

Singapore's Izaac Quek, ranked 242nd in the world, celebrates his Singapore Smash win over world No. 36 Mattias Falck on Monday. PHOTO: WORLD TABLE TENNIS

SINGAPORE – Even visually, it was a David versus Goliath battle as Singapore’s world No. 242 Izaac Quek – standing at no more than 1.72 metres – was up against Sweden’s 36th-ranked Mattias Falck, who is 1.88m.

While 16-year-old Izaac can claim to be a former Under-15 boys singles world No. 1, Falck is a 31-year-old veteran who won a men’s singles silver medal at the 2019 World Championships and is one half of the men’s doubles world champions from the 2021 edition.

But Izaac was unfazed, his face defiant even after losing the first two games, and his roars louder as he levelled the Singapore Smash men’s singles round-of-32 match. As the intensity in OCBC Arena’s glowing-red Infinity Arena increased, Quek smiled as he faced two match points.

Four points later, he held his hands aloft, as he had slain another giant with a 3-2 (6-11, 3-11, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10) victory to become the first Singaporean to make it to the event’s round of 16. On Saturday, he beat India’s world No. 51 Sharath Kamal Achanta to become the first local to win in the Singapore Smash men’s singles main draw.

Izaac will face his idol China’s world No. 3 Wang Chuqin in Wednesday’s round of 16.

Izaac said: “After the final point, I still couldn’t believe it. I didn’t set myself any goals for this tournament other than to give my all and learn as much as possible.

“I heard the cheers from the home crowd, which definitely helped. But when I was trailing, I didn’t feel or think much.

“I wasn’t really used to the short pimples he is playing on his forehand. He could be the only men’s singles player with this style.

“He was controlling me quite well when I was serving from a wider position, so I started serving from the middle to his wide forehand, changing the speed and location of my serves to try to get hold of his forehand shots.

“I also tried to hit more towards his backhand and mix things up with strength and speed, which worked ultimately.”

He later teamed up with Koen Pang to beat compatriots Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh 3-1 (11-7, 10-12, 11-3, 11-5). The world No. 200 pair will next meet China’s defending champions and world No. 4 duo Fan Zhendong and Wang in the men’s doubles round of 16.

Pang said: “I had lost in the round of 24 last year so it feels good to take a step up. We lost to the Chinese 4-0 earlier this year and we know they are heavy favourites, so we have nothing to lose and will go all out to play our best.”

With the win, Izaac is likely to break into the top 100 for the first time and national men’s singles coach Gao Ning hailed his young charge’s mental qualities and desire to improve.

The former national player, visibly spent as he held a cup of hot coffee, said: “Izaac always had the potential. What sets him apart is his strong desire to upgrade his technique. He has improved a lot over the past year in terms of maturity and his ability to adapt and introduce variety during matches.

“Today was a good example. I told him to let loose at 2-0 down and add more power to his backhand and serve more to the opponent’s wide forehand, and he managed to do just that.”

Gao was not the only one on the edge of his seat for the stunning upset. Izaac’s mother Chew Soon said her smart watch indicated her heart rate reached 153 beats per minutes, while his father David said his felt more like 200bpm.

Quek, 53, said: “We are proud of what he has achieved. We thought winning 20 points over three games would be a good result, and taking down one or two games would be a bonus.

“We never thought about winning because we value the performance more, and we never pressure him over his results.”

His wife, 52, added: “Regardless of the results, we will always support him in terms of preparation and psychology. Tonight, I can see him enjoying the competition and thinking through every point, and once again he amazed us.”

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