Double up on June 2

Double up on June 2
Singapore National table-tennis players Yu Mengyu (left) and Feng Tianwei (right).

June 2, 7pm, Singapore Indoor Stadium.

That could be the moment the Republic's table tennis team march towards an all-conquering seven gold medals at this year's South-east Asia (SEA)Games, and a record overall haul for hosts Singapore by the time all competitions come to an end on June 16.

The women's doubles title will be the first gold on offer at the Games, with world No. 4 Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu (13th), expected to feature in the final, possibly against teammates Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan.

That final will be immediately followed by the men's doubles final, where the Republic's Gao Ning and Li Hu are the hot favourites for gold, with their opponents possibly compatriots Chen Feng and Clarence Chew.

The two finals will set the tone for the Singapore table tennis team, and they have been working extra hard at three doubles events - including the mixed doubles - ahead of the SEA Games.

Speaking on the sidelines of the team's SEA Games media conference at the Singapore Table Tennis Association's Toa Payoh headquarters yesterday, men's head coach Yang Chuanning said: "The doubles events are crucial; we are rather strong in the singles and the team events but, in the doubles, there's more room for surprises, so our preparations in this area have to be stronger."

The 28th SEA Games officially begins on June 5 with the opening ceremony at the National Stadium, but some sports, like table tennis, football and netball, start slightly earlier.

Thailand and Vietnam have been singled out by both Yang and women's head coach Jing Junhong as the biggest threats, while individual paddlers from Indonesia and Malaysia may cause trouble in the singles events.

Singapore have won 22 out of 23 gold medals at the SEA Games since 2007, with only Vietnam successfully getting in the way in the men's doubles title in 2009.

Team manager Eddy Tay said: "There are several left-handed players in both Thailand and Vietnam and, for this centralised training, we invited the Taiwanese team, which comprise some left-handers, and a South Korean to train with us."

While the squad's main goal for the Games will be gold, both coaches will also be looking at how the younger paddlers perform and handle the tremendous pressure of playing in front of a home crowd.

While Chew and Isabelle Li have experienced such an environment at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games here, young guns Chen Feng, Lin Ye and Zhou will gain valuable experience competing at a home Games.

Women's singles world No. 61, Zhou, said: "Our competitive experience is rather limited, especially in big competitions, so this Games will be important for us for the future.

"We are already feeling the Games atmosphere now, and it's important for us to play to our best."

"I'd like to get the gold medal if I can!" added the 21-year-old, who will compete in the women's and mixed doubles, as well as the women's team event.

STTA deputy president Alex Yam added: "We hope to win all the events... we have worked very hard and fielded our best possible team.

"We are leaving nothing to chance into our last stretch of preparations before the Games.

"We will be playing on home ground... and there will be a lot of positive reinforcement from the majority of the crowd cheering for us, which also means expectations are far higher.

"But our paddlers relish that challenge, and they will do their best."

This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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