Table tennis: We will give it our all, says medal hopeful Feng Tianwei

Singapore's women's table tennis players Feng Tianwei (right) and Isabelle Li serving food to elderly residents at the Man Fut Tong Nursing Home on the team's visit there yesterday. The women have set themselves a target to win a medal at the World T
Singapore's women's table tennis players Feng Tianwei (right) and Isabelle Li serving food to elderly residents at the Man Fut Tong Nursing Home on the team's visit there yesterday. The women have set themselves a target to win a medal at the World Team Table Tennis Championships which begin on Sunday.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Not in top form, but women paddlers still eyeing a medal at world team c'ships

On paper, it is one of the weakest women's sides Singapore has ever fielded at the World Team Table Tennis Championships.

With world No. 8 Feng Tianwei struggling for form and the next highest-ranked player Yu Mengyu, 26, slumping to her lowest world ranking since April 2012 (No. 34), the odds are stacked against them extending their run of bagging a medal at each edition since 2008.

Isabelle Li, 21, who is still recovering from injury, Yee Herng Hwee, 18, and debutant Zhang Wanling, 16, make up the rest of the squad.

But ahead of the competition, which starts on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, the team, who were third at the last edition in 2014, remain confident of a podium finish.

Speaking on the sidelines of the national team's visit to Man Fut Tong Nursing Home yesterday, Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee said: "I would be very disappointed if we didn't come back with a medal. The (players') mindset is pretty strong (and) they have already set this as a target for themselves, that they want to win a medal for Singapore."

Coach Chen Zhibin, who was appointed only last week, concurred. He said: "Definitely there's pressure (to win a medal). But if our condition is good and the team stay united, there's definitely a chance. It's all about adjusting on match day and building their confidence."

One reason for optimism is the favourable draw, which saw fifth-seeded Singapore avoid top teams China, Japan and Hong Kong in the round-robin group stage. They are grouped with Chen's former team, third seeds Holland, Poland, Ukraine, France and Belarus. Singapore have never lost to the Dutch in three past meetings at the tournament, and Chen said his knowledge of their players will give his new charges an advantage.

This year's competition has added importance, with teams using it as a key part of their preparation before the Olympics in August.

But it has hardly been a smooth run-up for Singapore's women, who have undergone two coaching changes in the last four months.

Chen took over from Liu Jiayi last week, the latter having replaced Jing Junhong in November after a bust-up between Jing and the team.

Singapore's medal hopes depend on Feng, 29, who has bowed out early in her last two competitions. But if she was feeling the pressure, she did not show it yesterday, beaming as she mingled with the elderly.

"The run-up hasn't been easy," she admitted.

"The preparation phase is quite short and we have a new coach, whom we haven't had much time to work with. Some of us are carrying injuries, but we won't hold back during matches. We will definitely give it our all."

The men, who reached the quarter-finals in 2014, are grouped with Japan, Portugal, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. Gao Ning, Yang Zi, Pang Xue Jie, Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh make up the team.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2016, with the headline 'We'll give it our all: Feng'. Print Edition | Subscribe