SEA Games: Singapore's table tennis team aiming for three out of four golds on offer

(From left) Isabelle Li, Zhou Yihan, Yu Mengyu and Lin Ye will represent Singapore at the SEA Games. Despite fielding a team that consists of only three players with SEA Games experience, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) remains confiden
(From left) Isabelle Li, Zhou Yihan, Yu Mengyu and Lin Ye will represent Singapore at the SEA Games. Despite fielding a team that consists of only three players with SEA Games experience, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) remains confident of its target of three gold medals (out of four events) at the Dec 11-22 Games in Myanmar. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Despite fielding a team that consists of only three players with SEA Games experience, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) remains confident of its target of three gold medals (out of four events) at the Dec 11-22 Games in Myanmar.

Other than Yu Mengyu, Isabelle Li and Pang Xue Jie, the rest of the eight-player strong team are all making their debut at the biennial event. The team will be led by Zhan Jian on the men's team, and Yu on the women's side.

The top paddlers on both the men's and women's side - Gao Ning, ranked No. 16, and world No. 4 Feng Tianwei - have both been rested to give younger players a chance to compete.

STTA president Lee Bee Wah said: "I know that it is not easy, but it is also not impossible. We have strong opponents like Thailand, Vietnam and we heard that even Myanmar has a team of foreign talent. But I believe that we have worked very hard, and our players will do their best.

"There will be more pressure on Mengyu and Zhan Jian, but this is also a good opportunity for them to see how they cope with it. It will be helpful for future major tournaments."

Table tennis has traditionally been a gold mine for Singapore at the SEA Games. The Republic made a clean sweep of all five gold medals on offer at the 2011 edition in Palembang, Indonesia. The doubles event has been excluded from this year's edition, replaced with the team event.

Said Jing Junhong, head coach of the national women's team: "From the technical side of things, I don't think we have much of a problem. The trickier thing to handle is how our young players handle the pressures of competing in a big tournament like this for the first time."

Men's coach Yang Chuanning said that with the team event adopting the Olympic format of placing a doubles match as the third of a best-of-five tie, the team has been putting more effort into doubles preparation.

He said: "Our two main players (Zhan and Li Hu) must make sure that they do their jobs and not get injured."