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Tougher tests for paddlers

Singapore's women's paddlers topped their group with little fuss after winning both their opening team ties at the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Wuxi, China yesterday, but will have to clear another round of elimination before they can earn a place in the knock-out stages.

Led by world No. 3 Feng Tianwei - she is playing as part of the Singapore side for the first time since her exclusion from the national set-up last October - the Republic was untested by Sri Lanka (3-0) and Mongolia (3-0) in the group stage.

They will play either Malaysia or Iran today to earn a spot in the champions division, a category reserved for the top eight teams vying for the podium. Succeed, and they will meet either heavyweights China or familiar foes Japan.

Negotiating through the group stages is unfamiliar territory for a side that returned from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics with medals, but became necessary after Singapore finished eighth at the last edition of the biennial championships in 2015.

Feng won a singles bronze in Pattaya and is aiming to at least match that. She said: "I think this is the first time for Singapore, and a first for me to have to qualify for the champions division, but I believe it will be a good warm-up for us for the next few matches."

She won both her matches easily, beating Sri Lankan Hansani Kapugeekiyana 11-3, 11-1, 11-2 before a 11-3, 11-1, 11-3 victory over Undram Munkhbat of Mongolia.

The 30-year-old lauded her younger and more inexperienced team-mates for stepping up. All four were fielded, each winning.

While 17-year-olds Eunice Lim and Zhang Wanling have previous experience on the continental and world championships respectively, Tan En Hui, 17, and Wong Xin Ru, 16, were competing at the biggest event of their fledgling careers.

Against Sri Lanka, Eunice beat Erandi Warusawithana 11-7, 11-1, 11-5 while En Hui also whitewashed Bandara Rajaguru 11-7, 11-2, 11-7 to seal the Group B tie.

For the tie against Mongolia, Wanling beat Doljinzuu Batbayar 11-7, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8 before Xin Ru sealed the victory with a 11-7, 11-8, 11-5 win over Bolor-Erdene Batmunkh.

While their results came against sides seen as table tennis minnows, the young paddlers' composure nevertheless earned them praises.

Said Singapore Table Tennis Association senior high performance manager Eddy Tay: "For several of them, this is their biggest tournament yet. I thought there might be some nerves, but they were okay.

"The test becomes harder next for them, so playing more matches will definitely help give them a feel of the competition."

The men's team, playing in the champions division, faltered 2-3 against Chinese Taipei and will play for the fifth to eighth spots next.

Gao Ning posted Singapore's two lone points, beating Liao Cheng-ting 2-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-7 and Chen Chien-an 11-9, 12-10, 6-11, 11-5.

Pang Xue Jie lost 7-11, 5-11, 7-11 to Chen, then 8-11, 7-11, 5-11 to Liao.

Ethan Poh was beaten 11-4, 13-11, 11-9 by Yang Heng-wei.