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Target: All S'pore semi-final
Publication Date : 27-07-2012
After Wednesday's fortuitous draw for the Olympic table tennis competition, Singapore's head coach Zhou Shusen is daring to dream.
A place in the final of the women's singles could be beyond Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu, but he is eyeing an all-Singapore bronze-medal match that would guarantee a medal even before they defend their 2008 silver in the team event.
"Our hopes of getting first or second are small," he said. "But getting third or fourth - looking at the draw - we have a chance.
"My biggest hope is that both Feng and Wang reach the semi-finals. That would be perfect."
Thanks to the draw, the Singapore duo will steer clear of Chinese paddlers until at least the semi-finals. But, at 70, Zhou has seen enough to know that the battle has not been won yet.
His analysis is that both Feng and Wang - who will start in the third round on Sunday - face treacherous paths to the semi-finals. His players know it too.
"A good draw is just the first step," said Feng. "We have to make sure that every step from now on is the right one."
Her next step is likely to begin against Taiwan's Chen Szu-yu, whom she has never lost to.
After that, a trickier tie against German ninth seed Wu Jiaduo awaits. Wu stunned the Singaporean at last year's Slovenian Open, and a similar upset at the Olympics is not beyond her.
But Feng's real test would lie in the quarter-finals, where she is likely to duel either Spain's Shen Yanfei or South Korea's Kim Kyung Ah. Both players are choppers and have recently enjoyed victories over Feng, who has traditionally struggled against such defensive specialists.
Wang's biggest roadblock to the last four is Kasumi Ishikawa, the mercurial Japanese 19-year-old who is now ranked sixth, ahead of any Singaporean.
The equation for the knockout team event, which begins on August 3, is not straightforward either, Zhou warned.
If the Republic beat Poland in the first round and then North Korea in the quarter-finals, Japan will block their path to the final. The Japanese are formidable foes who have usurped Singapore's position as the world's second-best team behind China.
Said Wang: "We may have avoided China, but Japan are no pushovers. Matches against them have always been very close, so it all comes down to who can perform on the day."
On Wednesday, the Singapore team got to test out the competition hall at the ExCel Arena, as well as the new television-friendly blue flooring, which replaces the traditional red.
China's women - Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia - had just finished their training session when they ran into the Singaporeans. No words were exchanged between the rival players.
"It's too early to think about China," said Feng, who anxiously awaited the results of the draw at the Athletes' Village.
Still, despite their rocky build-up to the Games, Zhou is maintaining his confidence as his players chase a historic double success in London.
"A pairing between a dragon and phoenix is supposed to last a hundred years," he said, referring to a well-known Chinese proverb.
"If both Feng and Wang reach the top four in the singles, then we could get a double medal, something that's never been done for Singapore, not in a hundred years."