Singapore paddler Gao Ning: Pressure's on the favourites, not us
S'pore paddler ups the ante as England coach aims to deny Republic a clean sweep
Singapore's paddlers start their quest for a clean sweep at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast today, and they are in for a severe test.
England men's team coach Marcus Sjoberg made it clear that his team are prepared to end the Republic's dominance at the Games.
Sjoberg told the Games website that his team are eyeing all the golds in the men's events.
At the 2014 Games in Glasgow, England denied Singapore a clean sweep of all seven golds by winning the mixed doubles, thanks to the husband-and-wife pair of Paul and Joanna Drinkhall.
They will not be defending their title this year, but Paul, 28, will be taking part in other events.
The world No. 52 will be leading England's charge along with world No. 65 Liam Pitchford, who won a bronze in the men's singles and silvers in the men's team and mixed doubles in 2014.
Despite being two-time defending champions, Singapore veteran Gao Ning insisted that the pressure is not on the Republic, but on teams like England.
The world No. 47 told The New Paper in a phone interview yesterday: "The pressure is on the traditionally stronger teams like England and India.
"Our young paddlers shouldn't worry too much. They should just focus on playing to the best of their abilities."
Singapore's men's team won all the golds on offer four years ago. But Li Hu, who won the men's doubles with Gao, has left, while Zhan Jian, who won the men's singles, has retired.
Gao, 35, is the only player left from that squad. This time around, the men's team comprise mostly new faces.
Pang Xue Jie, 25, participated in the 2010 edition - when they had also won the men's team event - but the other members Ethan Poh, 19, Beh Kun Ting, 16, and Koen Pang, 15, will be making their Games debuts.
Gao hopes that the newcomers will use this opportunity to gain experience.
Singapore Table Tennis Association senior high-performance manager Eddy Tay took little notice of Sjoberg's words, maintaining his faith in the team despite them being underdogs.
England, who are grouped with Ghana and Guyana, also start their campaign today and could meet Singapore in the semi-finals.
Said Tay: "Several of our players have retired, so it's a different team. A lot of other teams think they stand a bigger chance to win the gold medal but we just have to do our best and prepare for our games."
The men's team will begin their campaign today when they face Mauritius and Barbados.
Also starting their title defence today are the women's team comprising Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Zhou Yihan, Lin Ye and debutant Zhang Wanling.
They face Malaysia in the morning before taking on Fiji instead of Sri Lanka, due to a redraw yesterday that took place because of an error over seedings during the initial draw the previous day.