TOKYO – To regain the Olympic table tennis medals they failed to defend at Rio 2016, Singapore will have to first overcome formidable Chinese opponents, after the draw was made on Wednesday (July 21).
The Republic’s top player Feng Tianwei was given a bye into the third round of the women’s singles by virtue of being seeded sixth.
And while the world No. 9 will face a lower-ranked player – Hong Kong’s Minnie Soo, Spain’s Maria Xiao or Kazakhstan’s Anastassiya Lavrova – in the round of 32 that starts on Monday at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, tougher rivals lie in wait if the seeds prevail.
In the round of 16, Feng could meet Germany’s Han Ying, 38, whom she has never beaten in four previous encounters. And if she progresses to the quarter-finals, China’s world No. 3 Sun Yingsha, 20, who is unbeaten in three matches against Feng, could like in wait.
Feng, 34, led the women’s team to silver at Beijing 2008 and won bronzes in the women’s singles and team events at London 2012. At Rio 2016, the women’s team lost the bronze-medal playoff and Feng fell in the singles quarter-finals.
On Wednesday’s draw, she said: “I knew it would not be easy, and this would be possible with the seedings. This is already not bad, so let’s take it one match at a time and see what happens.”
Her coach He Keyi told The Straits Times: “It is a bad draw for us, but it is not unexpected.
“There can be great unpredictability at the Olympics, no matches are won or lost at the draw.
“It still depends on how the athletes perform on the day. Good results and progress still require athletes to rise to the occasion and play to a certain standard. We will give it our best shot.”
Similarly, the Singapore women’s team are seeded sixth and face France in the round of 16, which commences on Aug 1.
However, Feng, Yu Mengyu and Lin Ye will most likely meet China in the last eight, and will require an upset the scale of the Miracle in Moscow – in which Singapore beat China to win the 2010 world team championships – to stay in the competition.
Team manager Loy Soo Han said: “The draw is not easy for us but everyone knows sport is unpredictable.
“Most importantly, the players need to perform well in the first match to build a good momentum. We trust that our players will do their utmost for Singapore.”
There is a silver lining for the team, though, as the country’s No. 2 Yu has a more favourable draw. She should be able to dodge players from China at least until the semi-finals.
Seeded 26th, the 31-year-old starts her campaign from the second round, which begins on Sunday. The world No. 47 will take on the winner between Portugal’s Shao Jieni and Sweden’s Christina Kaellberg.
If she advances, she could meet world No. 8 Cheng I-ching in the third round, but she does have a 10-3 head-to-head record over the Taiwanese.
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Overcome Cheng, and Romanian Bernadette Szocs stands between Yu and her ability to at least match her 2016 quarter-final result.
Her potential semi-final opponent is Japan’s world No. 10 Kasumi Ishikawa, whom she trails 8-7 in previous meetings. China’s world No. 1 Chen Meng headlines their side of the draw.
In the men’s draw, Singapore’s world No. 186 Clarence Chew will begin from the round of 128 and take on Senegal’s world No. 71 Ibrahima Diaw on Saturday.