Table tennis: Singapore's Koen Pang stuns higher-ranked Brazilian at World C'ships

SINGAPORE – The Republic’s top male player Koen Pang paid scant regard to the gulf in rankings as the world No. 161 upset Brazil’s 38th-ranked Gustavo Tsuboi 4-2 (9-11, 11-7, 11-7, 13-11, 9-11, 11-6) to reach the last 32 of the World Table Tennis Championships in Houston, United States on Wednesday (Nov 24).

The 19-year-old will face his idol and another formidable foe in former world No. 1 Timo Boll on Thursday. The 40-year-old German has four Olympic team medals and eight World Championships medals, including a men’s singles bronze in 2011.

Despite currently serving National Service and having to play in the men’s singles and mixed doubles, Pang showed no signs of fatigue or ringrust and took the game to 36-year-old Tsuboi, who had reached the men’s singles round of 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 when I could to disrupt his momentum and mess up his game and it worked today.

“I’m ecstatic to beat such a higher-ranked player and excited to play Timo Boll, whom I 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 served notice of his potential when he was the first Singaporean to top a table tennis world ranking by reaching the summit of the Under-18 boys’ list in August 2019. Later that year, the southpaw became the first Singapore-born table tennis player to win the South-east Asian Games men’s singles gold.

At these World Championships, he had beaten Italy’s world No. 163 Leonardo Mutti in the men’s singles and teamed up with Lin Ye as a 68th-ranked mixed doubles pairing to overcome Egypt’s world No. 23 duo Yousra Helmy and Khalid Assar.

They will play Turkey’s world No. 93 Ibrahim Gunduz and Sibel Altinkaya for a place in the last 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 Boll, Koen will need to brush up on his defence.”

In the women’s singles, Singapore’s world No. 11 Feng Tianwei bounced back 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.

Singapore’s world No. 11 Feng Tianwei (above) will face South Korea’s Suh Hyo-won in the round of 32. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Feng told ST: “I wasn’t used to the opponent’s style of play in the opening rounds and couldn’t adapt. Taking down 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.”

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Feng’s 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 Hyo-won is a defensive chopper, so Tianwei has to be patient and play her own game.”

There was also good news for Singapore in the women’s doubles as world No. 69 pairing Goi Rui Xuan and Wong Xin Ru beat India’s 103rd-ranked Madhurika Patkar and Sutirtha Mukherjee 3-0 (11-3, 11-7, 11-4) to set up a round of 32 clash with Germany’s world No. 18 Sabine Winter and Nina Mittelham.

However, in the women’s singles, world No. 193 Goi 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 China’s world No. 1 and Olympic women’s singles champion Chen Meng.

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