Junior stars cut it fine

Kevin Kung
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Lam Siu-hang, Li Hon-ming, Natalie Lam, and Karen Doo flanked by their coaches.
The city's table tennis team will send its best junior players to the Asian Youth Games in Nanjing next month. Shortlisted players had to play a round robin three times to claim a spot on the team that will take part in the second edition of the prestigious multisport event.

Karen Doo Hoi-kam and Natalie Lam Yee-lok made the cut. They will play in the girls' singles in Nanjing. In the boys' singles, full-time professionals Lam Siu-hang and Li Hon-ming will compete for glory under the guidance of coaches Ko Lai-chak and Zhang Rui.

Karen, 16, has been training full-time at the Hong Kong Sports Institute for a year and a half. She recently won the junior girls' singles title at the Egypt Junior & Cadet Open in Ismailia, Egypt.

In the final, third-seeded Karen went head to head with second-seeded US player Ariel Hsing in a seven-game thriller. The Hong Kong ace claimed victory with a deuce in the last game to secure her first junior singles title.

Karen sees her success in Egypt as a turning point. "I faced many obstacles at the tournament," she said. "I was sick and we lost to Japan in the junior girls' team final. That made me more determined to fight back in singles."

During group stage games, she managed to come back from behind several times. "My progress really helped me mentally. I have a more stable mindset," said Karen, who has represented the city three times at the Asian Junior and Cadet Championships. In Nanjing, she is hoping for a top-four finish.

Natalie, 17, hopes to do well, too. The player has used her summer vacation to spend more time on training for the showpiece. "I am ready to go through some very tough final preparation before the Games," said Natalie, a Form Five student at Holy Family Canossian College.

On the boys' side, Hon-ming, 17, says he is hoping to reach the quarter-finals at least.

"I am playing simulation games to get ready for the high pressure of actual matches," he said.

"I am learning new ways to get rid of my nervousness. One of them involves keeping my full focus on planning a strategy during a match."

His teammate Siu-han, also 17, has played at International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) tournaments in France, Sweden, Italy, Thailand and Egypt this year.

"This will be the one and the only time for me to play at the AYG," he said. "I don't want to have any regrets so I will do my best in Nanjing."

Just before the AYG, the four players will take part in the Nikon 2013 Hong Kong Junior & Cadet Open - one of 16 legs of the ITTF Premium Junior Circuit 2013. It's the biggest annual international junior tournament in the city.

The table tennis event in Nanjing will be held from August 17 to 19. Competitors will need to go through a group stage to qualify. Each group will comprise three or four players, with the top player earning a place in the 16-member final stage. Group stage matches will be best of five games, while the final stage will feature a more gruelling best-of-seven-games format.

Also, see Kevin's previews of Hong Kong's other representatives to the 2013 Asian Youth Games:

Also, see Kevin's previews of Hong Kong's other representatives to the 2013 Asian Youth Games:

- Athletics

- Badminton

- Fencing

- Football

- Girls' rugby

- Golf

- Handball

- Judo

- Rugby

- Squash

- Swimming

- Tennis