Li's absence stiffens Korea test

The Singapore women's team will feature new faces at the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Pattaya, Thailand. Feng Tianwei (centre) and Yu Mengyu (second from right) will lead a new-look team including teenagers Goi Rui Xuan (left), Eunice Lim (sec
The Singapore women's team will feature new faces at the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Pattaya, Thailand. Feng Tianwei (centre) and Yu Mengyu (second from right) will lead a new-look team including teenagers Goi Rui Xuan (left), Eunice Lim (second from left) and Yee Herng Hwee (right).PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Feng and Yu must do heavy lifting if young squad are to retain bronze at Asian C'ships

It sounds simple enough: Win one tie and at least retain the team bronze won at the last Asian Table Tennis Championships in 2013. But for the national women's team, ranked sixth in the world, the road to that podium finish is a tricky one.

Feng Tianwei and Co. will begin their campaign at the biennial tournament in Pattaya today, with world No. 3 South Korea the first hurdle standing in their way.

While Singapore have, for several years now, had to field a relatively younger and more inexperienced side, the squad this time are weakened further by Isabelle Li's absence due to injury.

Apart from world No. 7 Feng and Yu Mengyu (No. 29), the squad also include 18-year-old Yee Herng Hwee (No. 447), 14-year-old Goi Rui Xuan (No. 624) and 15-year-old Eunice Lim (No. 652).

Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan, the two next highest-ranked players after Feng and Yu at No. 51 and No. 73, are unable to compete.

Regulations bar foreign-born paddlers from competing for their adoptive countries in events like these without first sitting out a stipulated number of years.

In a phone interview yesterday from Thailand, national women's head coach Jing Junhong said: "It sounds easy - just win one tie and you'll at least get a bronze.

"But playing South Korea is not going to be that easy.

"We are very dependent on Tianwei and Mengyu to do the heavy lifting for our side.

"We are significantly weaker in our third singles so the pressure on them to ensure we go into that third match favourably is going to be immense.

"It's almost as if Tianwei and Mengyu cannot afford to make any mistakes. We have to chalk up three points between the two of them."

Teams will play five singles matches in a best-of-five format. There are no play-offs for bronze at the championships.

To confound matters for Singapore, the highest-ranked defensive player competing in the tournament, Seo Hyo Won, hails from South Korea.

Singapore's paddlers have traditionally been troubled by such "choppers".

The world No. 12 holds a superior 3-1 head-to-head record against Feng, 29, on the International Table Tennis Federation professional circuit, and a 2-2 record against Yu.

Against world No. 13 Yang Ha Eun, Yu, 26, has won just twice in their six previous meetings on the tour.

Said Jing: "We haven't had much chances to compete or play against defensive players lately so it'll really be up to the players to adapt on the day itself. "

While she called on her charges to be confident before their challenge, she emphasised that most teams are treating the Asian Championships as a testing ground to suss out their potential opponents ahead of the Olympics next year.

She said: "I want the team to just try and get into the momentum of competition and not to be too stressed out by the result, whatever it may be.

"We are looking long-term."

ASIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Day 1: StarHub Ch203, 7pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Li's absence stiffens Korea test'. Print Edition | Subscribe