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Table tennis: Nightmare draw for Singapore women

The New Paper | Lim Say Heng | Sunday, May 4, 2014

National women's head coach Jing Junhong shuffled her line-up against France to give Feng Tianwei (above) more rest.

They beat the odds by topping their group at the World Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo.

Now, the Singapore women's national team will have to defy even greater odds to progress to their fourth consecutive final.

Feng Tianwei and Co are likely to face South Korea - the team they beat earlier this week to finish first in Group C - in the quarter-finals tomorrow, while mighty China are their likeliest semi-final opponents on Sunday.

In the other half of the draw, Hong Kong should meet Germany after the Round of 16 matches today, while hosts Japan will face the winners of the Taiwan-Holland tie.

Speaking to The New Paper after the draw, national women's head coach Jing Junhong said: "In terms of quality, South Korea are ahead of us, but we have the psychological advantage after beating them this week, which has also given our players a confidence boost.

"This upcoming tie will be even more difficult, but we will go out fighting once again."

Asked about the prospect of facing world No. 1 China in the semi-finals, the former national paddler said: "I am not thinking that far, we are going to focus on each match as it comes."

Before the competition, Jing said a top-eight finish was the target for the new-look team, which features world No. 7 Feng, Yu Mengyu, and debutantes Isabelle Li and Yee Herng Hwee.

The women's team have enjoyed a great run at the biennial world team championships.

They finished second in 2008 and 2012, and in 2010, they caused a sensational upset when they wrested the Corbillon Cup from the mighty Chinese.

TRANSITION

But the team are in transition after the loss of stalwarts Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu, who retired after the 2012 Olympics.

Said Jing: "We have already upset the odds - we were the fifth-best team coming into the competition, but topped our group to get a bye into the quarter-finals."

The team finished their group stage with a 3-1 victory over France yesterday, with the coach shuffling the line-up.

Playing the first singles instead of Feng, Yu beat Audrey Zarif 11-4, 11-3, 11-4, but compatriot Isabelle Li then fell to Laura Gasnier 11-3, 6-11, 7-11, 7-11 in the second match.

Feng put Singapore back ahead with a 13-11, 12-10, 9-11, 11-4 win over Carole Grundisch, before Yu secured the tie with a 13-15, 11-9, 11-5, 11-4 victory over Gasnier.

Said Jing: "The change was partly to allow Tianwei to rest a little, but also to let Mengyu take more responsibility and face a different kind of pressure.

"There was little risk in shuffling the pack since we would have topped the group regardless of today's result."

The team will get a day's rest today because of the bye to the quarter-finals, which Jing will use for some light training.

The men's team will get such respite, though.

Gao Ning and Co. will face Sweden in the last 16 today, after beating Croatia 3-1 in their final group match yesterday to finish second in Group B in the men's competition.

A rematch with Germany - they lost 3-0 to the same opponents in Group stage - in the last eight is also possible, if the Singaporeans come through today.

This article was published on May 2 in The New Paper.

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