Table Tennis: Singapore women paddlers grouped with Dutch in team world championships

Singapore's Feng Tianwei in action at the 28th SEA Games on June 8, 2015.
Singapore's Feng Tianwei in action at the 28th SEA Games on June 8, 2015. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Women paddlers grouped with Dutch in team world c'ships, aim for top spot to enter q-finals

Feng Tianwei and Co got the luck of the draw yesterday, when they avoided being grouped with the world's top two sides for the World Team Table Tennis Championships next month.

In being drawn into Group C with third seeds the Netherlands, Singapore's women's table tennis team, who are seeded fifth, avoided not only powerhouses China, but also tricky opponents Japan (world No. 2) and Hong Kong.

Singapore will also play Poland, Ukraine, France and Belarus in round-robin play, aiming to finish among the top three in the group to assure themselves a place in the knock-out stage. Group winners are assured a place in the quarter-finals.

In a media statement released by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) yesterday, world No. 8 Feng Tianwei said: "We are expecting tough competition at the world championships and I would say that this is the best draw for the women's team."

GIVING OPPONENTS THE CHOP

Our players' performance against choppers will determine our chances of topping the group.

''EDDY TAY , STTA high performance manager, on the style of play of some Dutch, Polish and Ukrainian players.

Head coach Liu Jiayi highlighted the wealth of experience in the Dutch team, who include world No. 19 Li Jie, a defensive specialist, and No. 21 Li Jiao. But the Singaporeans will nonetheless be looking to make the most of the favourable draw by topping Group C.

Said STTA high performance manager Eddy Tay: "There are good choppers from the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine. Our players' performance against choppers will determine our chances of topping the group."

The STTA declined requests to interview the coach and players following the draw ceremony.

The favourable draw aside, the Feb 28-March 6 event in Kuala Lumpur remains a considerable challenge for the paddlers. For one thing, for a side who have delivered team medals at the last two Olympics, the tournament will be one of the most important tune-ups ahead of August's Rio Olympic Games.

Feng, a singles bronze medallist at the last Olympics, will be doing the heavy lifting. Singapore will field Feng, Yu Mengyu, Isabelle Li, Yee Herng Hwee and Zhang Wanling at the world championships.

Naturalised players Lin Ye, 19, and Zhou Yihan, 21, while higher ranked, are not eligible to compete. The International Table Tennis Federation currently bars foreign-born paddlers over the age of 21 from playing for their new countries in the World Championships and the World Cup. Those below the age of 21 can compete after various sit-out periods depending on their ages.

The world championships will also be the biggest test yet for a women's side who have in recent months gone through major shake-ups.

Jing Junhong, who had been women's team head coach since 2012, was removed from her position in November and redeployed to take charge of youth development following an internal fallout with the players. She was replaced by Liu, who had been her deputy.

The team, however, can take heart from the fact that Singapore have traditionally done well against the Dutch.

This is the fourth straight world team championships that the Republic have been drawn with the Netherlands, with all three previous encounters ending in straightforward victories for Singapore.

In the men's event, Singapore were placed in Group C with Japan, Portugal, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The team will consist of Gao Ning, Yang Zi, Pang Xue Jie, Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh.

In Tokyo in 2014, the Singapore women were semi-finalists and the men quarter-finalists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'EASIER TASK WITHOUT CHINA, JAPAN AND HK'. Print Edition | Subscribe