Paddlers may be first to the table

Paddlers may be first to the table
Paddler Feng Tianwei guides student Tng Yee Peng, 9, in a game of table tennis.

Team Singapore's quest for a record medal haul at June's SEA Games will start at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, with the June 2 table tennis women's doubles final set to be the first medal event of the biennial meet.

It is an event which Singapore has won at every SEA Games since 1999, except in the 2013 edition in Myanmar where it was not held.

Singapore's top two women's paddlers, Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu, will be paired up and tasked to carry on this winning tradition and get the Republic off to a golden start. The younger pair of Zhou Yihan, 21, and Lin Ye, 19, are the other Singaporean representatives in the event.

Far from wilting under the pressure, Feng and Yu are confident they can deliver the goods.

World No. 4 Feng, 28, told The Straits Times yesterday: "To be given the chance to win Singapore's first gold medal shows the trust that people have in us.

"I will do my best to repay their faith by winning the gold."

Yu, 25, echoed her sentiments. The world No. 16 said: "The standard in the region has gone up, but we will do our best.

"It's an honour, and we're excited and happy to be given this chance. It'll also be an early present for Singapore's 50th birthday. But there's a world championship coming up, and we have to focus on that first."

Indeed, while the SEA Games remain a high priority, the paddlers first have to contend with the Apr 27-May 3 World Table Tennis Championships in Suzhou, China.

Feng, in particular, will be looking to make a mark after a breakthrough victory in last month's Asian Cup, where she bagged the singles title after beating China's Liu Shiwen in the final.

She said: "The focus for the past month is the world championships. After that, I will prepare for the SEA Games.

"My knee is still causing me pain during training, and hopefully it won't flare up during the competition."

Asked if she is a marked woman at the world meet after her Asian Cup triumph, Feng said: "The Asian Cup victory showed I've made progress, but it's in the past and won't have any bearing on future competitions."

Taking on the Chinese in their own backyard is no easy feat, and national women's coach Jing Junhong was reluctant about setting targets for the team.

Said Jing: "Unlike in the Olympics, China can send more than two representatives per event for the world championships, and they have a good crop of five to six world-class players in each category. It'll be very difficult to win a medal, but we'll try our best."

Before leaving for the championships today, the national table tennis team paid a visit to Woodlands Gardens School yesterday, and happily mingled with students for much of the morning.

Table tennis took a backseat as telematches and painting sessions were the order of the day.

Feng, the subject of numerous picture requests, told the students: "Thank you all for supporting us, and I hope to see you at the SEA Games."

This article was first published on April 24, 2015.
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