Table tennis: When friend turns foe, Fan and Wang in ‘awkward’ S’pore Smash match

Fan Zhendong (right) and Wang Chuqin of China in action against Japan's Yukiya Uda and Shunsuke Togami during the men's doubles semi-final at the Singapore Smash. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE – Partners turned rivals is an “awkward” situation that awaits China’s Fan Zhendong and Wang Chuqin as well as Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu at the World Table Tennis Singapore Smash on Saturday.

On Friday, world No. 4 men’s doubles pair Fan and Wang showed great resilience to beat Japan’s top-ranked Yukiya Uda and Shunsuke Togami 3-1 (12-10, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9) in a repeat of the 2022 final that ended with the same scoreline.

They will attempt to retain their title against South Korea’s 2021 world championship finalists Jang Woo-jin and Lim Jong-hoon, who beat Taiwanese duo Lin Yun-ju and Chuang Chih-yuan 3-1 (13-11, 6-11, 13-11, 11-5).

After that, men’s singles world No. 1 Fan and No. 3 Wang will battle in the men’s singles semi-finals, following their respective wins over Sweden’s Truls Moregard and China’s Lin Gaoyuan.

Asked how they feel about being teammates and rivals, Fan, who leads their head-to-head record 6-2, made a face and said: “That’s awkward.”

Wang broke into a rare laugh and added: “We will enjoy the match.”

They had more to say about their doubles semi-final triumph, in which they rallied from 8-6 down in the first and fourth game to win a tight match.

Fan, 26, said: “It is always difficult to play against very strong opponents, but we were patient. Whether we were leading or behind, we never panicked, and kept trying to find solutions.”

Wang, 22, added: “It is impossible to always be at our best. What we can strive for is stability, and I think we achieved that today to beat the world No. 1 pair.”

The other men’s singles semi-final will feature China’s world No. 2 Ma Long, who beat Germany’s Qiu Dang 4-0 (11-2, 11-4, 11-4, 11-5) to maintain his record of not losing a single game in the tournament.

He will take on world No. 5 Hugo Calderano after the Brazilian beat Nigeria’s 14th-ranked Quadri Aruna 4-0 (11-7, 12-10, 11-2, 11-2).

Ma, 34, said: “This is my best match in the one year since the last Singapore Smash.

“My mentality was good, and I managed to execute everything according to plan. My strokes were clean and a high percentage of my shots landed where I wanted them to land, so I’m pleased and I hope I can continue such form.”

Like their male compatriots, Sun and Manyu will go all out against each other in their women’s singles semi-final. They will then try to retain their women’s doubles crown against teammates Chen Meng and Wang Yidi.

In the women’s doubles semi-finals, Sun and Manyu beat South Korea’s Jeon Ji-hee and Shin Yu-bin 3-0 (12-10, 14-12, 11-3), while Chen and Yidi defeated Japan’s Hina Hayata and Mima Ito 3-1 (11-8, 12-10, 7-11, 11-8).

Sun Yingsha (left) and Wang Manyu of China serving against Jeon Ji-hee and Shin Yu-bin at Singapore Smash 2023. The duo will face each other in the women's singles semi-final PHOTO: EPA-EFE

This was after Sun was stretched in a nail-biting 4-3 (11-3, 5-11, 11-6, 11-5, 7-11, 10-12, 11-5) win over South Korean qualifier and world No. 104 Joo Cheon-hui, while Manyu also toiled for a 4-1 (7-11, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10, 11-2) win over Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin in the women’s singles.

Sun, who had little more than an hour’s rest in between Friday’s singles and doubles matches, said: “I think it actually worked to my favour.

“I was playing more freely towards the end of my singles match and I was able to carry over the momentum to the doubles.”

Manyu added: “I think it is pretty normal for us to play multiple events and end up meeting one another in the latter stages.

“We are good friends and we hope to put on an entertaining show for the fans.”

The other women’s singles semi-final will be also be an all-China affair between world No. 22 Qian Tianyi and 16th-ranked Zhang Rui, who beat Austria’s Sofia Polcanova and Germany’s Han Ying respectively.

This has been a breakthrough tournament for 2018 world junior champion Qian, who beat Taiwanese world No. 26 Chen Szu-yu, Japan’s world No. 5 Ito, and French world No. 19 Yuan Jianan at the OCBC Arena.

The 23-year-old said: “It’s nice to be beating higher-ranked players here because I have been having a difficult time trying to beat the top players on the senior circuit.

“There are so many great players in the national team, so I’m just trying to stay positive and continue working hard so that I am ready when the chance presents itself.”

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