Local trio set to take centre stage

THEY are looked upon as the rookies of the team, but only for now.

The plan two years from now is for local-born paddlers Isabelle Li, 20, Pang Xue Jie, 20, and Clarence Chew, 17, to lead an all-conquering team when Singapore hosts the SEA Games.

Said Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Lee Bee Wah: "We want to field more local talent at the 2015 SEA Games... (and) we hope that Clarence, Xue Jie and Isabelle will be able to lead the team (then)."

Speaking at a media conference the STTA held ahead of next month's SEA Games in Myanmar, Lee reiterated her belief in fielding a side that had a mix of experience and youth for events like the biennial Games, where the standard of the sport is at a lower level.

"It's always been our plan to have one set of more experienced players bringing along another set of younger players," she said.

"In table tennis, Singapore are already world-class. If we keep sending the best (we have) for the SEA Games, our younger players will never have the chance to play at the SEA Games.

"It's good to give the younger players a chance, especially this year. The experience will help them when the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are held next year," added Lee, who is also MP for Nee Soon South.

National women's team head coach Jing Junhong would even go so far as to set Isabelle a target of winning the singles title at home in 2015, improving on the silver she won in Indonesia in 2011.

She said: "Isabelle has made marked improvements in the last two months. The Isabelle every one saw two years ago in Jakarta will be different from the Isabelle in Myanmar this year.

"She has age on her side and she definitely has a chance to go for the gold in 2015."

While Isabelle and Xue Jie, final-year students at Republic Polytechnic (RP), have been to the SEA Games, Clarence, a first-year student also at RP, will be making his debut at the event.

Clarence is among the five on the STTA's eight-strong team who do not have experience at the event.

The women's team will be led by world No. 22 and quadruple SEA Games gold medallist Yu Mengyu, with Zhou Yihan and Lin Ye making their maiden appearance. World No. 26 Zhan Jian, a debutant, will be leading the male charge.

Despite having a squad made up mostly of debutants, the STTA remains confident of reaching its target of winning three of the four golds (men's and women's singles and team events) on offer.

Said Jing, herself a former national player: "From the technical side of things, I don't think we (the women's team) have much of a problem.

The trickier thing to handle is how our younger ones handle the pressures of competing in a big tournament like this for the first time."

Men's team head coach Yang Chuanning felt that with the team event adopting the Olympic format of placing a doubles match as the third of a best-of-five tie, winning that tie could prove crucial.

He said: "We've been putting more efforts into our doubles preparation. I'm not too worried, but our two main players (Zhan Jian and Li Hu) must make sure that they do their jobs."


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