PETALING JAYA: Two-time national champion Mohd Shakirin Ibrahim simply envies the might of Singapore’s naturalised table tennis players from China.
He said it was almost impossible to close the ranks with a formidable Singapore team, who made a clean sweep of the seven gold medals at stake at the last SEA Games in Korat two years ago.
“They are so polished in their game and it is a foregone conclusion that we will not be able to get the gold medal,” said Shakirin of their medal hopes in the Laos SEA Games next month.
He added that although they have had the benefit of training in China for a month and getting a good warm-up ahead of the Games at the ongoing Asian championships in Lucknow, India, they would still not be up to it against Singapore, who have players ranked among the top 10 in the world.
“It will be tough to stop their world-class players. Perhaps there is a chance for us to finish second best only,” said the 24-year-old Shakirin, who created history by becoming the first non-Chinese national champion in the sport three years ago.
Shakirin has managed only two bronze medals in the SEA Games series — in the mixed doubles (2005 Manila) and men’s doubles (2007 Korat).
Shakirin and Chai Kian Beng are good bets again to win medals for Malaysia in the men’s competition.
The duo had an opportunity to play against the top seeded Singaporean pair of Gao Ning-Yang Zi in the Commonwealth championships in Glasgow in May and were beaten 6-11, 6-11, 2-11 in the quarter-finals. The Singapore pair were quarter-finalist in the world championships.
The other two Malaysian players in the Laos Games’ men’s competition are Kho Mao Sheng and Mohd Ashraf Haiqal.
The women’s team are weakened by the withdrawal of national No. 1 Ng Sock Khim. The 24-year-old Kedahan was forced out of the squad with a torn ligament. She underwent surgery last month and is expected to be out for three months.
Sock Khim delivered a surprise silver for Malaysia in the women’s singles at the Korat Games. It was the country’s first-ever silver medal in 13 years.
She went on a giant-killing feat to beat Singapore’s China-born world No. 6 Li Jiawei en route to the final. But she was unable to get the better of another China-born Singaporean, world No. 8 Wang Yuegu of Singapore.
Besides the individual event, Sock Khim also forms a lethal partnership with 10-time national champion Beh Lee Wei in the doubles. This year, the duo created history when they won the Indian Open in March for Malaysia’s first-ever title on the International Table Tennis Federation Pro Tour.Hoh Yin has replaced Sock Khim in the team for the Laos Games. The other members of the team are Lee Wei, Chiu Soo Jin and Fan Xiao Jun. STAR