China wary of threat posed by our paddlers

They have not been at their best recently, but that has not stopped the press in China from labelling the Singapore women's table tennis team as the biggest threat to their female paddlers at the upcoming Olympic Games.

Having won 20 of the 24 gold medals available since table tennis was introduced into the Olympics in 1988, China are overwhelming favourites to sweep all four golds on offer at this year's Games in London - from July 27 to Aug 12.

Chinese news wire agency Xinhua on Monday named the Singapore trio of Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Li Jiawei as China's most dangerous opponents for the women's team gold.

The Singapore women lost to their Chinese counterparts in the final at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but stunned the sports world two years later when they exacted revenge at the World Championships in Moscow.

Earlier this year, China snatched their world crown back in March, but Xinhua claimed that Feng, Wang and Li "have proven their ability to withstand an unimaginable amount of pressure".

Speaking to The New Paper on Monday, Singapore's women's head coach, Zhou Shusen, is not surprised that China view his players as their biggest threat.

Said the 70-year-old: "No other team have beaten China in a women's team event for more than 10 years, but we have, and that puts us as their No. 1 opponents.

"The standards of Chinese paddlers and ours are much closer than the rest of the countries, and our players have a better win-record over the Chinese than the Japanese do."

This season, Feng, 25, and Wang, 32, have been affected by shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively.

Li, 30, is slowly rediscovering her form after giving birth in 2009.

The combination of factors has seen the team's world ranking slip from No. 2 to No. 3. The Japanese are now No. 2 behind powerhouses China.

It means there is a 50-50 chance defending champions China could meet Singapore before the final of the team event.

At the World Championships in March in Dortmund, the Singapore women showed true grit to post dramatic comeback victories over Germany and South Korea, before surrendering their crown to the Chinese in the final.

Said Singapore Table Tennis Association's high-performance manager, Eddy Tay: "After Beijing 2008, many countries have been studying us and have since caught up with us.

"We are now very close in terms of standards with the likes of Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and even North Korea, so we have to get into the top four first before thinking about China."

Experience

Feng and Wang are seeded sixth and eighth in the women's singles, respectively, and will be Singapore's representatives in the event in London.

World No. 15 Li, who will achieve a milestone for the Republic with her fourth consecutive appearance at the Olympics, will join them in the team event.

They all have bags of experience, while Guo Yue is the only paddler from China's victorious 2008 trio in this year's team.

The report from China also pointed out that the task has been made more difficult this time because the singles competition will be held before the team event, a reverse from the 2008 Games.

Said coach Liu Guoliang: "If our players have already pocketed one gold medal (in the team event), then it will be easier for them to get another in the singles event.

"Now the competition format is reversed, and our pace is changed. The players will have huge pressure."

Said Tay: "Tianwei and Yuegu will start their singles campaigns in the third round based on their seedings, but it might not be a good thing.

"They will face opponents who have already played one or two matches, and they would have had the chance to get used to the playing arena.

"In the previous Olympics, players will get a feel of the place because they would have played in the team event first.

"Now they have to go into their first match 100 per cent prepared, so the pressure is bigger."

The Singapore men's and women's teams will leave on Friday night for centralised training at the Surrey Sports Park.

Said Tay: "There will be only two paddlers from each country in the singles events this time and both (Chinese paddlers) Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia are playing in the Olympics for the first time.

"I've always said that the Olympics is full of surprises."


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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