THE country’s top table tennis players, led by world championship round-of-16 qualifier John Russell Misal of Davao City, predict a good finish when the 9th Flexible Cup International Table Tennis Championships get underway today at the Harrison Plaza Activity Center in Manila.
Even the presence of well-known foreign players from China and six other countries in the three-day competition organized by the Table Tennis Association for National Development (TATAND) is not enough to discourage the Filipinos.
“Pipilitin ko pong manalo. Ang target ko po talaga ay yung gold medal (in the men’s singles). At yung experience ko sa World Championship sa London ay malaking advantage para sa akin,” said Misal during his appearance in the 10th “Usapang Sports” presented by the Tabloid Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) at the National Press Club in Intramuros, Manila.
“Sa SEA Games, gusto ko din sanang sumali sa tryouts para mai-represent uli ang bansa natin,” added Misal, who earned a lot of respect when he upset local hero Ashley Stokes and reached the round-of-16 in the World Championship of Ping Pong held in London last Jan. 26-67.
“Nung tinalo ko siya (Stokes), nagulat na lang ako dahil marami nang mga bata ang nagpa-autograph sa akin dun sa London,” said the 22-year-old Misal, who was named UAAP Most Valuable Player while representing National University in 2017.
TATAND honorary president Charlie Lim said the three-day competition, which will also showcase top talents from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, England, Chinese Taipei and the United States.
“The competition here is tough with the presence of international players. But I expect the Filipinos, especially John Russell, to hold their ground,” said Lim, who accompanied Misal in the weekly sports forum supported by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the National Press Club (NPC).
Lim said Misal promised to play his best in the Flexible Cup and prove that he deserves a slot in the Philippine team even though he was not allowed to join the national tryouts.
“Gusto ko talagang sumali sa tryout at maglaro sa SEA Games pero gusto nila pumirma ako at talikuran ko ang grupo ko at maglaro sa kanila,” Misal said.
“Para sa akin, dapat bigyan ng karapatan na maglaro sa bansa ang lahat ng Pilipino ano man ang grupo na kinabibilangan niya.”
The Flexible Cup has 20 events for men and women with the overall team champion taking home P50,000 and the male and female open singles winner pocketing P10,000 each.
More than 400 players have already signed up for the biennial tournament, which is being supported by Flexible Packaging Corporation.
“Over 400 players have signed up for this year’s event. We have organized this for 18 years now and this is our contributions for grassroots development of table tennis,” explained Lim, who is also part of the 50 years old and above team of the country.
Lim takes pride in TATAND having produced the late Ian Lariba, who earned the distinction as first Filipina to compete in the Olympics.
“While we’re not the official NSA, TATAND is here to help our young table netters to fulfill their dreams. Si Yanyan, kasama kami sa kanyang pagsabak sa qualifying event para makapasok siya sa Rio Olympics,” added Lim.
Leading the foreign cast are former Asian champion Yon Mardiyono of Indonesia, Chen Lei Xin of Xie Chong of China.
Also expected to make their mark in the event are the Cebu Huaching team composed of former No. 1 Richard Gonzales , Jann Nayre and Stephen Jaca.
The other notable participants in the Flexible Cup are reigning UAAP champion University of Santo Tomas, defending NCAA champion College of St. Benilde, Phil Fleet Marine Team, Philippine Army Team 7, PNP Crime Lab- Altruists, Omila Sports Academy of Gensan.