Table tennis star Feng in the mood for Olympics
World No. 4 ready for another metal joust as table tennis targets one medal
Bring on the Olympic champion!
With less than three weeks to go to the Olympics, Singapore table tennis star Feng Tianwei has stated her ambition to win in Rio.
"I'm slated to meet (China's defending women's singles champion) Li Xiaoxia in the semi-finals if everything goes to plan and, yes, I have the confidence to face her," said world No. 4 Feng.
"We are all gradually hitting form and, for me, it is a matter of adjustments to tactics, as well as physical and mental aspects.
"As for the team, I believe in them. I want us to be united, focus on the process, do our best and have no regrets.
"If we can do all these, I believe good results will follow."
Feng has never beaten Li, the world No. 5, in 10 previous encounters.
But, after overcoming shoulder and knee injuries to post consistent results in the race to Rio, Feng has surged up the world rankings and will be seeded second in the women's singles at the upcoming Olympics, ensuring she will not meet the big guns until the latter stages.
The 29-year-old is Singapore's most successful athlete.
She owns three Olympic medals, as part of the team that finished second and third, respectively, at the last two Games, and the bronze she collected in the women's singles at the 2012 Olympics.
During a media conference at the Singapore Table Tennis Association headquarters at Toa Payoh yesterday, national women's table tennis coach Chen Zhibin also singled out Feng as the best medal prospect.
"Tianwei is the stronger bet in the women's singles because she is the only member of the women's team to have experience competing at the Olympics and she is mentally strong," said Chen, who was appointed only in February.
"Being the second seed in the women's singles is an advantage, but we also hope for the luck of the draw to avoid those whose style she finds difficult to play against, such as southpaws and choppers.
"But, that said, she did face such players at London 2012 and adjusted her game superbly to overcome those obstacles, which is why I feel she is our best medal prospect.
"If she can clinch an individual medal, that would greatly boost the team's morale and allow less experienced teammates Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan to loosen up and play better.
"Their lack of experience could mean they may be more afraid to make mistakes during matches, but their results are getting better and that's very encouraging.
"We did not have the luxury of time to work on new technique and tactics, so it was a matter of enhancing their existing skill sets, and find sparring partners to simulate problematic opponents during our recent three-week centralised training in South Korea."
While Yu and Zhou are Olympic rookies, they have posted encouraging results in recent competitions for the Singapore team to be seeded fourth, behind top-ranked China, Japan and Germany.
World No. 15 Yu, 26, has fared well against the Japanese, overcoming Mima Ito (ninth) at last October's Polish Open, before beating Kasumi Ishikawa (sixth) in this year's semi-final.
World No. 34 Zhou, the youngest player on the team at 22, also has the ability to surprise, beating the higher-ranking South Korean duo of Jeon Ji Hee (11) and Yang Ha Eun (24) at last month's Japan Open.
She also partnered Lin Ye in a shock 3-0 doubles win over China's Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning in last year's Japan Open semi-finals, and will look to create more waves with Yu in the doubles segment of the team event in Rio.
But there is no doubt all eyes will be on Feng, as she chases more Olympic history.
This will be her third successive Olympics, and she is not finished.
"For my first in 2008, I went in not knowing what to expect. I was so nervous my arms and legs were trembling," she recalled.
"In my second Olympics, it was tough because I knew what all the difficulties would be.
"I guess it gets more and more difficult, but I hope I can enjoy my third Olympics.
"Under normal circumstances, this will not be my last Olympics."
- Singapore's table tennis teams, including men's singles veteran Gao Ning and Chen Feng, will leave tomorrow for a 10-day acclimatisation training camp in New Jersey, before flying to Brazil. The Olympic table tennis draw will be held on Aug 3.
Table tennis targets one medal at Rio Olympics
"If we can retain the two bronzes from 2012, it would be very good, but the make-up of this team is different (from the one in 2012)." — STTA president Ellen Lee (in yellow) PHOTO: STRAITS TIMES
It is the most successful sport for Singapore at the Olympics, achieving a breakthrough at the 2008 Beijing Games with a silver and then bagging two bronze medals at London 2012.
While her predecessor Lee Bee Wah boldly targeted two medals ahead of the London Olympics, current Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Ellen Lee is hoping that the Republic's women, led by Feng Tianwei, will bring back at least a medal from Rio next month and continue the successful run.
"If we can retain the two bronzes from 2012, it would be very good, but the make-up of this team is different (from the one in 2012)," said Lee, during table tennis' media day at its Toa Payoh headquarters yesterday.
"If we can get at least one medal, it will be very good."
After a 48-year drought, Singapore's women paddlers matched weightlifter Tan Howe Liang's silver-medal feat in Rome in 1960, when they finished second behind all-conquering China in the team event in 2008 in Beijing.
Four years later, the women bagged bronze in the team event, while Feng finished third in the singles.
Former Member of Parliament Lee feels that women's world No. 4 Feng, who is seeded second in singles at the Rio Games, stands a higher chance of winning a medal compared to the women's team.
The 29-year-old is the only surviving member of the previous two medal-winning teams, with Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu retiring after the 2012 Olympics.
In their places are world No. 15 Yu Mengyu and world No. 34 Zhou Yihan, who will make their Olympic bow in Rio.
Also making his Olympic bow is Chen Feng, who will join veteran Gao Ning in the men's singles. The male paddlers did not qualify for the team event.
Lee insisted that her target is not a "step down" from the 2012 goal, and said: "The only veterans in our teams are Tianwei and Gao Ning - to say that they must achieve at least two medals or to step up from the two medals that they won from the last time would be putting undue pressure on them.
"It would also be undue pressure on the three others going, as well."
But Feng said: "It is true that, among my teammates, only I have experience playing in the Olympics.
"But there are other countries, such as Hong Kong, fielding debutants as well.
"I believe my teammates and I will rise to the occasion in Rio."