Paddlers eye podium finish despite obstacles
Women's table tennis team aim to continue medal run at world team championships
The team will not be at their strongest and the two senior stars are hardly on form.
The players are also adjusting to their new coach.
But the Singapore women's table tennis team believe they can bring home a medal at the upcoming World Team Table Tennis Championships in Kuala Lumpur.
Feng Tianwei and Co have finished on the podium in every edition of the biennial world team tournament since 2008, even pulling off one of the great upsets in the sport when they beat China to claim the world crown in 2010.
"I would be very disappointed if we don't come back with a medal but... we cannot be very presumptuous to think that just because we have won medals (before) that we will be winning medals again," said Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee, on the sidelines of the paddlers' visit to the Man Fut Tong Nursing Home in Woodlands yesterday.
The women's team leave for KL today and will be led by world No. 8 Feng Tianwei and world No. 34 Yu Mengyu.
Two-time South-east Asia (SEA) Games women's singles silver medallist Isabelle Li and youngsters Yee Herng Hwee and Zhang Wanling, ranked 349th and 539th in the world, respectively, are also in the team.
While the 2016 team are almost the same as the 2014 team that collected bronze in Tokyo - Wanling is the only addition to the otherwise unchanged squad - this year's outfit head into the world championships on a less-steady footing.
Feng and Yu have been out of form and suffered shock defeats by lower-ranked opponents in recent times, including at last month's Hungarian Open.
Li, 21, has not played competitive table tennis since last year's SEA Games on home ground (see other story), while Yee, 18, and Wanling, 16, are still wet behind the ears at world level.
Also, the women's team are now headed by Chen Zhibin, who started work only 12 days ago after replacing Liu Jiayi, who himself took over from Jing Junhong last November.
Still, the draw is in the team's favour.
Singapore are in Group C with Holland, Poland, Ukraine, France and Belarus, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout rounds.
Chen, 54, has insider knowledge of the Dutch, having been their national coach between 2009 and 2012.
He said: "I understand the Holland team and will advise our players accordingly on the strategy. No problem."
With limited time to work with his charges, Chen has made training more intense in the lead-up to the tournament.
He said: "I have been reminding them to train as if they are in competition... if you are relaxed during training, you will not be able to bring out your form when you're tense and nervous during competition.
"Of course, there is pressure to win a medal at the world championships, and we will try hard for it. As long as they play to their potential, we have a chance."
Feng, 29, said: "Our main target is the Olympics this year, but we hope to at least reach the top eight at the world championships, as well.
"It is harder to win a medal at the world championships this time... but we hope we'd be able to overcome our difficulties and do well (in KL)."