Singapore eye clean sweep

Singapore eye clean sweep

Out of seven events, there was just one table tennis gold medal Singapore failed to pick up at the last Commonwealth Games in New Delhi 2010, the men's doubles.

So this year, armed with two strong men's doubles pairings, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) aims to make it a clean sweep at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (July 23 to Aug 3).

Men's head coach Yang Chuanning told The New Paper: "Most teams have at most one strong doubles pairing but, in Gao Ning and Li Hu, Yang Zi and Zhan Jian, we have two very balanced duos.

"It's good that we have been performing well, but that also puts a target on our backs.

"If we can handle the pressure and expectation, perform to our potential and play without any baggage, we stand a good chance of winning some gold medals for Singapore."

For so long in the shadows of their more illustrious female teammates, the Singapore men's table tennis team have finally stepped up and shown what they are made of in the last seven months.

They first clinched the SEA Games men's singles through Zhan Jian and picked up the men's team gold with ease last December.

Gao Ning and Li Hu then displayed superb mental strength to rally from 3-7 down in the rubber set to become just the second pair in the 18-year history of the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Grand Finals to retain the men's doubles title in January.

BEST RESULT

They then achieved their best result at the World Team Table Tennis Championships when they finished joint-fifth in Japan in May even though they entered the competition ranked 15th.

Zhan Jian, who will be playing in his first Commonwealth Games, told TNP: "We have done well because we have been training in such a way where we are prepared for every scenario, positive or negative.

"So we know how to react when the situation is to our advantage, or when our backs are against the wall.

"The Commonwealth Games is of a higher standard compared to the SEA Games and, in such major tournaments, the competition lasts longer with group matches compared to regular ITTF tournaments. We just have to adapt and handle this different kind of pressure."

With Zhan offering a unique and unfamiliar attack with an uncommon pimpled bat, Gao Ning and Li Hu equally ferocious on the forehand and backhand, and southpaws Yang Zi and Clarence Chew able to catch opponents off guard with their service and third-ball attacks, the men's team are at an unprecedented position of strength.

Few would have expected Chew to be a key member, but the 18-year-old played a key role in the team's historic efforts at the World Championships.

Picking up the slack from an injured Yang, who was nursing a slipped disc, Chew claimed some stunning scalps in the form of Hong Kong's Wang Chun Ting (then-world No. 37) and Sweden's Per Gerell (then-world No. 35).

He said: "I gained a lot of experience and confidence and I get a better understanding of how to play against these top players now.

"If I continue to play with fighting spirit and without fear, and play to my best, I can match them."

STTA president Lee Bee Wah was optimistic of Team Singapore's chances of at least matching their success from the last Commonwealth Games.

She said that both the men's and women's teams will head to Austria tomorrow for two weeks of centralised training, where they will take on sparring partners who are similar in style with their main contenders India, England, Australia and Canada.

Lee added: "Both teams are very united now with great captains in Gao Ning and Feng Tianwei, who both lead by example when it comes to discipline and training. We also have very good coaches and very professional team managers.

"I want every player to show fighting spirit. We want our players to be able to cope with the pressure if they want to be world-class Olympians."


This article was first published on July 4, 2014.
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