Feng-Yu expected to deliver Singapore's first gold medal
Experience will be key factor for a clean sweep at SEA Games for women's team
Top female paddlers Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu will lead the charge for Singapore's first gold medal at the SEA Games come June.
The seven table tennis events will be played from June 1 to 8 and The New Paper understands the women's doubles final will be on June 2.
With 2012 World Tour Grand Finals women's doubles champions Feng and Yu ranked fourth and 16th respectively in the world's singles standings, the highest in South-east Asia, the duo are hot favourites to deliver the first cheers for Team Singapore.
Their closest rivals should be compatriots Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan, who will attempt to upset their more illustrious teammates.
On the sidelines of the Singapore Table Tennis Association's visit to Woodlands Gardens School (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled) yesterday, Feng said that she is up for the challenge.
The 28-year-old, who is slated to play in the women's singles, doubles and team events, said: "We are playing at home, so definitely we want to put on a good show for our countrymen.
"Of course, the pressure is there, but our big-tournament experience will help and we will do our best to win."
To prepare for the SEA Games and the upcoming World Table Tennis Championships in Suzhou, China, from Sunday to May 3, the paddlers had gone to Taiwan for a month-long centralised training stint.
Women's head coach Jing Junhong added: "We sparred with top players from the Taiwanese national team and worked on both technique and fitness.
"Our standard may be higher than the other countries at the SEA Games, but that doesn't mean it will be a walk in the park.
"If we want all the gold medals, we will have to work for it."
While the women's team, featuring Feng, Yu, Lin, Zhou and Isabelle Li are expected to stamp their authority in South-east Asia again, the men's team will have to overcome internal and external hurdles.
Defending men's singles champion Zhan Jian has been ruled out with a serious tennis elbow injury, although they will be able to call on world No. 15 Gao Ning and 2013 SEA Games bronze medallist Clarence Chew.
Men's head coach Yang Chuanning also singled out Cambodia, who are likely to feature naturalised paddlers from South Korea, as the main threat.
He said: "We will be going for all the gold medals on offer. But our men's team are older compared to our women's team, so we have to be practical about training load and the number of events they play in.
"We will prepare the team for every possible scenario in the hope of cutting mistakes to a minimum."
Singapore swept all seven gold medals for the first and only time at the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand and came close to repeating the feat two years later in Laos, but lost the men's doubles title to Vietnam.
However, their odds will improve this year as they will feature 2012 and 2013 World Tour Grand Finals men's doubles champions Gao and Li Hu.
Gao, who will also take part in the men's singles and team events, said: "We cannot underestimate any opponent. We are experienced enough to manage our time and training load.
"I've played in all four events in 2007 and 2009, so three should be okay.
"This is the year of Singapore's golden jubilee. It's a big occasion for me and every Singaporean, so we hope to give the nation more cause to celebrate at the SEA Games."
PROBABLE SEA GAMES LINE-UP
- Men's singles: Gao Ning, Clarence Chew
- Women's singles: Feng Tianwei, Isabelle Li
- Men's doubles: Gao Ning/Li Hu, Chen Feng/Clarence Chew
- Women's doubles: Feng Tianwei/Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye/Zhou Yihan
- Mixed doubles: Yang Zi/Yu Mengyu, Li Hu/Zhou Yihan
- Men's team: Gao Ning, Yang Zi, Clarence Chew, Li Hu, Chen Feng
- Women's team: Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Isabelle Li, Lin Ye, Zhou Yihan.
Tough for 'targeted' Feng
To come up with a winning strategy in table tennis, it is common for players to study, dissect and scrutinise every detail of their opponents' play.
This is especially so for paddlers as highly ranked as world No. 4 Feng Tianwei, after her historic women's singles victory at last month's Asian Cup.
The 28-year-old Singaporean upset Chinese paddlers Zhu Yuling and Liu Shiwen en route to winning her first-ever title in the competition, and both paddler and women's national coach Jing Junhong are bracing themselves for a Chinese team angling for revenge at the World Table Tennis Championships in Suzhou, China, starting on Sunday.
"Tianwei will definitely be 'targetted'," said Jing on the sidelines of the team's visit to the Woodlands Gardens School (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled) yesterday.
"Everyone has been monitoring her and the Chinese team will double up their efforts in scrutinising Tianwei's play now since she is their main threat."
Jing warned that it would be tough for the three-time Olympic medallist to make another breakthrough at the upcoming competition.
"While each country are limited to two players in an event at the Olympics, there's no such limit at the world championships," said Jing.
"China have quite a few players or pairs who are capable of winning the medals and they will be even more motivated to do well on home ground."
SETTING OFF TODAY
The Republic's paddlers returned from a four-week centralised training camp in Taiwan on Wednesday and will leave today for Suzhou.
Feng said: "Everyone is wondering if I can make another breakthrough at the world championships, but the result of one competition doesn't necessarily carry forward into the next, although I do hope to continually improve from one competition to the next.
"The centralised training was not very long and was used to prepare us for both the world championships and the SEA Games, but I was also trying to cope with injuries and illnesses during the camp as well.
"Hopefully, I can get a hold of my injuries and illnesses during the two competitions."
Also hoping to make breakthroughs in China are Gao Ning and Isabelle Li.
Gao, 32, said: "I hope to get into the top eight, either in the men's singles or the men's doubles. I've exited the last 16 twice in the men's singles and, hopefully, I can do better than that this time."
Li, 20, is counting on her experience from her first full training camp to bear fruit in China.
"While the camp was short, we made full use of our time there," said Li, who is hoping to qualify for the main draw of the women's singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.
Singapore won a bronze via Feng and Yu Mengyu in the women's doubles in 2013, with the championships alternating between individual events and team events every other year.
- LIM SAY HENG
When: June 1-4, 6-8
- Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium (ticketed)
- On offer: 7 gold medals
- Past SEA Games medal haul: 64 golds, 19 silvers, 55 bronzes
- Milestones: 1967 - Peck Noi Hwoy won Singapore's first-ever women's singles gold at the South-east Asian Peninsular Games in Bangkok. 1999 - Duan Yongjun won Singapore's first-ever men's singles gold, in Brunei.
- Did you know?
Singapore have won the women's singles gold at every SEA Games since 1995. Current women's national coach Jing Junhong started the ball rolling that year. Also, current technical director Loy Soo Han won a mixed doubles bronze with Koh Li Ping when Singapore hosted the Games in 1993.
- The New Paper's medal prediction:
The sport claimed all four gold medals at the 2013 Games in Myanmar, and all five titles at the 2011 Games in Indonesia. Expect Singapore to field a strong line-up of paddlers on home ground, as they stake their claim for all seven golds in June.
TNP-PUMA SEA Games contest
WIN: Two pairs of PUMA Match 74 tennis shoes worth $129 are up for grabs this week. PHOTO: COURTESY OF PUMA
In partnership with German sportswear company PUMA, The New Paper will be giving away PUMA boots and shoes to its readers in the lead-up to the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games from June 5-16.
This week, we will be giving away two pairs of PUMA Match 74 tennis shoes, worth $129 and are available at PUMA retail stores and selected wholesalers.
PUMA entered the world of tennis soon after the company was established and launched its first professional tennis shoe, the Match, in the 1960s.
Throughout the '70s and '80s, PUMA released a series of performance-enhancing tennis shoes, worn by top athletes such as Guillermo Villas, Martina Navratilova and Boris Becker.
PUMA signed on Becker in 1985, and the then-17-year-old went on to win the Wimbledon that same year.
This year, PUMA celebrates the 30th anniversary of Becker's unforgettable victory at Wimbledon by putting a new spin on the iconic Match 74 shoes.
To stand a chance of winning the Match 74 tennis shoes, go to tnp.sg/seagamescountdown and answer a simple question.
The closing date is Thursday, April 30. Two lucky winners will win a pair of shoes each and they will be notified to collect their prizes.
LAST WEEK'S CONTEST
Last week's question for the first TNP-PUMA SEA Games contest was: When was the last time Singapore reached a football final at the SEA Games?
The answer is A) 1989.
Below are the two winners who will each receive a pair of PUMA football boots. They will be contacted to collect their prize.
Winner 1: Abdul Razif
Winner 2: Jonathan Cai Junlong