Singapore women paddlers to play North Korea in quarter-finals
But Feng's health crucial to outcome of q-final against defensive paddlers from N Korea
REPORTING FROM SHAH ALAM
It seems like Lady Luck is smiling down on the Singapore women here at the World Team Table Tennis Championships.
Feng Tianwei and Co. enjoyed a kind draw for the opening group stage, and took advantage of it by beating Holland, Poland, Ukraine, France and Belarus to top Group C and receive a bye to today's quarter-finals.
Then, in the second-round draw conducted late on Wednesday night, the Republic drew the winners of yesterday's Romania-North Korea playoff, with the tie to be played at 1pm today.
The North Koreans whitewashed the Romanians 3-0 in their Round-of-16 clash and will line up against a Singapore team who are building some momentum.
If Singapore win the last-eight tie, they will face world No. 2 Japan tonight in the semi-finals, with mighty China in the other half of the draw.
With no play-off for bronze, teams in the last four are guaranteed medals.
Speaking about the draw yesterday, women's national coach Chen Zhibin said: "It was a good draw, we avoided South Korea and Ukraine.
"We have a good chance of beating North Korea tomorrow - Tianwei and Yu Mengyu have found their form and I hope they can keep this rhythm up for the rest of the competition."
The Republic beat North Korea 3-0 in the 2012 edition of the world team championships and both Feng and Yu have never lost to North Koreans Ri Mi Gyong, Kim Song I and Cha Hyo Sim, according to International Table Tennis Federation records.
However, world No. 8 Feng - who has been the anchor in the women's team - is battling fatigue and injuries, including a shoulder worry, after playing 10 matches in four days.
Her play was affected in the tense 3-2 win over Holland on Wednesday, where she lost the first match.
The Singaporean played through pain to beat Li Jie 3-0 to level terms for the Republic at 2-2, before Yu delivered the deciding point in the rubber.
Both Singaporeans were rested yesterday by Chen, while younger players such as Isabelle Li, Zhang Wanling and Yee Herng Hwee trained in the morning.
While Chen previously said he may consider installing Yu in the first singles to give Feng more rest, he said yesterday that the three-time Olympic medallist will kick off the tie against the North Koreans today.
Chen said: "Tianwei and Mengyu are having rest and treatment day to day because their competition load has been heavy the past few days.
"We will be having a meeting this afternoon to analyse our opponents and to set up our strategy... But I should be keeping Tianwei as the first singles player."
Romania coach Filimon Viorel warned that the North Koreans may prove to be Singapore's undoing today.
Following his side's 3-0 loss yesterday, Viorel said: "It wasn't easy playing against them, especially their choppers, since we don't usually play against high-level defensive players in Europe.
"Feng's form is getting better, but I'm not so sure of your second player (Yu); she seems a bit shaky sometimes.
"And North Korea have been getting better and better in this tournament."