Defending champs but Singapore men are underdogs: Pang

(From left) Gao Ning, Koen Pang, Pang Xue Jie and Ethan Poh training at the Oxenford Studios. The team were drawn against Mauritius and Barbados in the group stage but face a tough task to reach the final.
(From left) Gao Ning, Koen Pang, Pang Xue Jie and Ethan Poh training at the Oxenford Studios. The team were drawn against Mauritius and Barbados in the group stage but face a tough task to reach the final. ST PHOTO: LIM SAY HENG

Six months ago, filming for the superhero movie Aquaman was completed in the Oxenford Studios before they were converted for use for the Commonwealth Games.

The Singapore men's table tennis team will require a superhuman effort at the same venue where they start the defence of their team gold tomorrow.

While the Republic won the event in New Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014, they have fielded a mix of youth and experience this year - veterans Gao Ning, 35 and Pang Xue Jie, 25, are complemented by Ethan Poh, 19, Beh Kun Ting, 16, and Koen Pang, 15.

The senior Pang said: "We have a realistic chance at the bronze. But there is always a chance for gold because, unlike the World Tour events, the Games are higher pressure and anything can happen.

"We are underdogs for the gold, which is good for us because we will have nothing to lose."

Poh says the Games feel "bigger" than the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur last year, but insists he will not be overawed by the scale.

He said: "I am confident that we will do well as a team as we have prepared well, and I will try not to make myself nervous and treat it as I would for other tournaments."

Even before the draw yesterday evening, England's world No. 52 Paul Drinkhall told The Straits Times: "It'll be very interesting this year; Singapore have been quite dominant in the last few years, but it is hard to find a favourite in the men's team event this year.

"Singapore, England, India, Nigeria, and even Canada can fancy having a go at the gold."

Third seeds Singapore are with Barbados and Mauritius in Group C and, depending on the draw for the knockout rounds, may face India or England in the semi-finals .

The women, who have won every team title since the sport was introduced at the 2002 Games, face Malaysia and Sri Lanka in Group A.

The top seeds, comprising Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Zhou Yihan, Lin Ye and Zhang Wanling, could face Australia, England or Canada in the semi-finals, and possibly India in the final.

Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) senior high-performance manager Eddy Tay said: "Our players should not have a problem negotiating the group stage, but the draw for the knockout stages would be crucial.

"What is also crucial in the preliminary stage is for our players to get used to the playing environment."

Last month, STTA president Ellen Lee set the team the target of sweeping all seven golds.

The men start their campaign against Mauritius tomorrow while the women play Malaysia.

Yu, 28, said: "It is good that the matches are not as tight as other tournaments (like the SEA Games), there's just a match or two a day.

"This gives us time to warm up and find our best form. There probably would be some rotation of players in the group stage as well, so physically we should be fine."

Feng, 31, added: "We do have an advantage over the other teams, but we cannot underestimate them and must prepare well.

"We hope to be able to bring some medals home for Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'Defending champs but S'pore men are underdogs: Pang'. Print Edition | Subscribe