IT was second time lucky for Malaysian Muhammad Zulhakim Murad, who claimed the gold in men’s table tennis at this year’s ASEAN Games Australia, after missing out on the top spot last year. Cassie Shi reports.
On September 22, paddlers from Southeast Asian countries battled it out at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre for the ASEAN Games Australia 2012 table tennis honours.
In stack contrast to the cheering and screaming at the basketball preliminary matches nearby, there was silence at the table tennis venue, punctuated only by the spectators’ hush whispers and the sound of balls striking bats and hitting tables.
Tension in the air heightened as the finals between Malaysians Muhammad Zulhakim Murad, a 24-year-old University of Melbourne electrical engineering student, and Chee Heng, an 18-year-old student at Trinity College, got underway.
The latter had beaten Muhammad in a tightly fought preliminary match, two sets to one. But the loss did not seem to give him any pause as his powerful attacking strokes earned him the first set.
The reply was swift and brutal with a fired-up Chee Heng winning the last four points of the second set to get on the scoreboard.
Just as it looked like momentum was going Chee Heng’s way, Muhammad snatched back control, taking the next two sets despite some stellar counter-attacks and smashes from Chee Heng.
But if excellent plays weren’t going to work, perhaps a change of clothes would.
Chee Heng started the fifth set wearing attire: a green shirt with the word “Perak” (a Malaysian state) on the back and its flag on the front. The psychological boost proved effective as he clawed his way back into the match, winning the set, 11-7.
The sixth set saw Chee Heng take a commanding lead. But Muhammad soon levelled the score at 8-8, before winning the set and the event.
“I feel great,” Muhammad said after the match.
“I always got number two in a lot of competitions,” he laughs.
Muhammad has been playing table tennis for ten years. But he did not train much this year and was not happy with his performance despite the win.
“I wasn’t playing my best,” he said. “Last year was better.”
Chee Heng, who only had four years of table tennis under his belt, described his performance as “pretty alright”, even though he has lost.
“[I] lost a bit of focus in the beginning,” he added.
Chee Heng achieved second in the mixed doubles event, partnering with Soh Hui Ying. The winners of that event were Wilson Yang and Lee Wen Yi, who were representing Singapore.
Singapore also dominated the women’s singles event with Leck Hui and Wen Yi taking the gold and silver respectively.