Table tennis: New head coach Chen ready for 'great challenge'

Feng Tianwei and Gao Ning at the Singapore Table Tennis Association's annual awards night held at the Civil Service Club.
Feng Tianwei and Gao Ning at the Singapore Table Tennis Association's annual awards night held at the Civil Service Club.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Coach aware of expectations on team as Feng hopes to regain form in time for Rio

With a little over a week left to the World Team Table Tennis Championships, it is with a mindset of experimenting that the new head coach of the national women's team will lead his charges to Kuala Lumpur.

While he has gained some insight into what changes need to be made since he was unveiled by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) this week, it will take time for them to bear fruit.

"We've been doing video analyses and the world championships will be a chance to see how helpful the various adjustments will be, and we will make further tweaks from there," Chen Zhibin said yesterday in his first media interview since his appointment.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the STTA's annual awards at the Civil Service Club.

In tackling what he described as the greatest challenge of his coaching career so far, Chen, who previously coached the Dutch women's team, knows the biggest task at hand is to guide Feng Tianwei back to form.

 
  • KEPPEL-STTA ANNUAL AWARD WINNERS

  • Sportsman of the Year
    Gao Ning

    Sportswoman of the Year
    Feng Tianwei

    Outstanding Coach of the Year
    Jing Junhong

    Supportive Coach of the Year
    Liu Jiayi

    Team of the Year
    National men's team

    Young Player of the Year
    Lin Ye

    Young Achiever of the Year
    Clarence Chew

    Special Award of the Year
    Lin Ye, Zhou Yihan, Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Yang Zi

    Commendation Award
    Wang Xiang and Hao Anlin

The 2012 Olympic women's singles bronze medallist has suffered a string of early exits in recent months, causing her world ranking to slide to the current No. 8.

Chen said Feng has struggled to adjust to the new ball introduced in July last year. It is made of a different material and is also slightly bigger.

He said: "The change affects the speed of the ball and you have to make adjustments to your rhythm and technique.

"Tianwei hasn't been able to adjust to it well. She's a very hard-working player but often, the more anxious you are, the harder it is to make a natural transition."

However, he is confident that her form will return naturally once she eases into the changes.

He said: "For a player of Tianwei's calibre, once she can find her rhythm, the rest will follow.

"It's only six more months before the Olympics and I'm aware there is a lot of expectation on the women's team. We will work hard to make adjustments and hopefully we can get Tianwei back to her form."

Feng, who was named Sportswoman of the Year last night, said the arrival of a new coach has injected some much-needed confidence.

She said: "He has some new ideas, which is helpful. It's only been a week or so since he took over and it'll take some time for us to gel more but I hope to work with him as well as possible for the World Championships. The focus at the end is still the Olympics."

The team will head across the Causeway next week, when Feng and Yu Mengyu will spearhead the defence of their bronze from the 2014 edition.

Local-born paddlers Isabelle Li, Yee Herng Hwee and Zhang Wanling make up the remainder of the team. Naturalised players Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan, while ranked higher, are not eligible to compete due to International Table Tennis Federation regulations.

Said Chen, a Beijing native who was ranked as high as world No. 5 as a player: "We're in a period of transition now, with a mix of more experienced and younger players.

"For local-born players to be able to get the kind of results (that Singapore previously did), there's still some way to go. But I think we still stand a chance.

"The Singapore women's team have been producing results for many years and have gone as far as becoming world champions in 2010.

"It's a great challenge to coach this team, but I have ambition and I'm willing to take up this challenge."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Chen ready for 'Great Challenge''. Print Edition | Subscribe