The stage is set for a showdown between Singapore and the Netherlands at the World Team Table Tennis Championships today.
Both sides head into the tie knowing only a win will secure a guaranteed quarter-final spot as group winner. This means avoiding big guns like China and Japan, who will likely top their groups.
The second- and third-placed teams of each group have to play in the round of 16.
Feng Tianwei and Co are unbeaten so far in six-team Group C and breezed past Poland 3-1 yesterday, while the Dutch were upset 3-2 by the French yesterday.
Singapore coach Chen Zhibin who coached the Dutch women from 2009 to 2012, said: “Our results so far have been good and we are confident. We learnt a lot from the tight situations we found ourselves in over the past few days.
“Based on current form, we stand a good chance. I will highlight their strengths and weaknesses and come up with the strategy but ultimately, the players must be comfortable and apply them.”
The Dutch know that beating Singapore will see them top the group by virtue of a superior head-to-head record. Which is why player-coach Elena Timina opted to rest their No. 2 Li Jiao and keep her fresh for the Singapore tie.
Yesterday, their world No. 99 Britt Eerland told The Straits Times: “Li Jiao was rested because she wants to prepare for (Singapore). We knew today’s match wouldn’t really matter if we beat Singapore.
“It was a calculated risk. She’s really focused during tournaments and she’s super-ready for this.”
The Netherlands’ top player is world No. 18 Li Jie, a defensive specialist whose style Feng and Yu Mengyu have often struggled against.
Games against choppers are often long-drawn affairs, meaning Feng, who has played eight matches already, could be sapped.
The world No. 8 said: “I’ve always struggled against choppers. But I’ve played against many of them in this competition and I hope I can get past this barrier.
“I also understand the areas I need to tweak against this type of playing style and it’s something I will try to iron out in training after the tournament.”
Both Li Jie, 31, and Li Jiao, 43, are also vastly experienced, something which Feng said might make a difference, even if she has a superior head-to-head record against both – 9-0 and 7-2 respectively.
“On this big stage, experience is important. Overall we’re quite evenly matched, although our form is more stable. It’s all about who brings their A-game (today),” said the Asian Cup champion.
Feng, however, can take heart from how she has already beaten a string of choppers, including Ukraine’s Tetyana Bilenko, Belarus’ Viktoria Pavlovich and Poland’s Li Qian.
Grit is also not lacking in the Singapore No. 1, who saved six game points in the first game against Poland’s Li Qian yesterday to earn a 15-13, 7-11, 11-5, 17-15 victory.
The Singaporean was also stretched to the full five games by the world No. 49 Bilenko but eventually found her form and eked out a morale-boosting 12-10, 7-11, 10-12, 11-9, 14-12 win.
Asked if Chen’s intimate knowledge of the Dutch team would help Singapore, Eerland said: “In the end the players have to do it, not the coach. I’m still confident because I know what Li Jiao and Li Jie can do. We’ve prepared well, we are the third seeds and we want a medal.”
The men’s team, robbed off top player Gao Ning through injury, lost 0-3 to Belarus – their fourth successive defeat. They play Ukraine this afternoon, after which they will compete for positions 13-24.
This article was first published on March 02, 2016.
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