Rio Olympics 2016

Focus is only on next opponent

Singapore paddler Yu Mengyu has a good draw in the women's singles competition, managing to avoid top-seeded Ding Ning of China until the semi-finals.
Singapore paddler Yu Mengyu has a good draw in the women's singles competition, managing to avoid top-seeded Ding Ning of China until the semi-finals.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singapore paddlers not counting medals as team draw puts them in same half as China, S. Korea

Before the Singapore women's table tennis team can fret about their chances against China, they have to first ensure that they earn the right to face China.

For Feng Tianwei and Co, the target is to retain at least one of the two medals they won four years ago in London. However, their immediate mission will always be their opponents across the table, and making sure they prevail in earlier rounds of the competition.

The paddlers had mixed fortunes during the draw ceremony on Wednesday.

The luck of the draw favoured Yu Mengyu, placing the Olympic debutante in a different quarter from Ding Ning of China, and thus avoiding a clash with the top seed until the semi-finals.

Feng's No. 2 seeding also ensured that she will avoid China's other paddler, reigning champion Li Xiaoxia, until the final four.

Both paddlers begin their singles campaign from the third round.

There was no such luck in the team-event draw, as Singapore - targeting a team medal at a third successive Games - were drawn into China's half, with South Korea potentially waiting in the quarter-finals in the knockout format.

The Korean side boasts of Suh Hyo Won, one of the world's best defensive specialists and ranked in the top 10 within the last year. Feng has been known to be troubled by defensive players - known as "choppers" in table tennis talk.

But rather than be bogged down by the pressure of a podium finish, observers within the Singapore contingent have described the paddlers as relaxed and cheery since arriving in Rio earlier this week.

Speaking before a training session yesterday at RioCentro Pavilion 3, where the table tennis competition is held, Feng said: "It's definitely tough to be drawn with China (in the team event), but the other half is also full of very good teams. There are no real advantages here."

Head coach Chen Zhibin, who was appointed only in February this year, is more concerned over Feng's earlier rounds in the singles.

Spain's Shen Yanfei and Austria's Liu Jia - left-handers whom Feng also does not favour playing against - are potential opponents.

"It could be tricky for Tianwei, but she still has the advantage when it comes to experience on the big stages, her fighting spirit and ability to adapt," said Chen.

Of the three players Singapore is fielding in the team event, Feng is the only one with experience on the Olympic stage. Zhou Yihan, competing in only the team event, is also getting her first taste of the quadrennial Games alongside Yu.

Still, China's Ding maintains that Singapore is always regarded as a tricky opponent. She said: "The team has always maintained a very high standard. We'll take it one round at a time, but if we meet Singapore in the semi-finals, I think it will be a very good match-up."

Feng, so often the heroine in Singapore table tennis' past exploits, will again be depended upon to do the heavy lifting in both events. The 29-year-old, competing in her third Games, will spearhead the medal charge in the singles - which begins tomorrow - hoping that a good result will take some heat off her team-mates in the later team event.

Said the world No. 4 and second seed: "I think we're all starting to get a little nervous now that we're here, but I hope that I'm able to enjoy this Games as much as I can."

•Additional reporting by Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Focus is only on next opponent'. Print Edition | Subscribe