AFTER a lacklustre SEA Games on home soil, Singapore's top table tennis player Feng Tianwei had hoped for a better showing in Japan, a happy hunting ground for her.
Instead, the world No. 4 fell at the first hurdle of the Japan Open when she was upset 11-7, 11-7, 11-9, 8-11, 4-11, 7-11, 11-9 by Japan's Misako Wakamiya yesterday.
The result is another blow to the Singaporean's form and confidence for, on top of failing to retain her title, it was also the first time in at least five clashes that Feng - who also won the event in 2011 - had been beaten by the world No. 43.
FALLING JUST SHORT
They were neck and neck in the last game, and to fight back and lose after a lead in the last game - it's a huge pity.
- Singapore coach Jing Junhong, on world No. 4 Feng's narrow loss
Feng, who shockingly failed to progress beyond the group stage in the women's singles at the SEA Games, had routed Wakamiya 4-0 when they met in last year's edition of the Japan event.
This time, however, she was confounded right from the start. And while she found her bearings from 0-3 down to force the match to the rubber, even leading 9-7 in the last game, Feng again found herself on the losing end against a left-handed opponent.
National women's head coach Jing Junhong, in a phone interview from Kobe where the tournament is ongoing, told The Straits Times: "The opponent became very aggressive in the last few points of the match.
"Tianwei was not able to adjust to her tempo. They were neck and neck in the last game, and to fight back and lose after a lead in the last game - it's a huge pity."
Jing attributed the loss to Feng's slow recovery from a long-standing knee injury which has kept her from being fully fit.
Months out of the International Table Tennis Federation's (ITTF) professional circuit to focus on preparing for the SEA Games has also meant some loss of momentum. Said Jing: "With China's top two players here, we always knew it would not be easy to retain the title. Other players have been playing more regularly on tour than us recently."
Feng has not competed in an ITTF event since the World Championships, which ended in early May. Wakamiya, meanwhile, had already featured in four ITTF tournaments - albeit lower-level ones - since then.
Jing, however, is not overly concerned that the loss will affect Feng's confidence level too much.
She said: "Tianwei is still in recovery and it's only through matches that we can assess how well she's coping. She didn't play well at all in the first three games, but regained her usual form towards the end of the match."
Singapore will have no role to play in the women's singles, after Yu Mengyu and Lin Ye were also defeated. Yu, ranked 15th, was whitewashed 12-10, 11-9, 11-7, 11-5 by Hong Kong's No. 31 veteran Jiang Huajun.
Lin nearly upset world No. 5 Kasumi Ishikawa when she held a 3-1 lead, but eventually lost 11-7, 5-11, 11-6, 11-5, 6-11, 8-11, 8-11.
Feng and Yu will still feature in the women's doubles, after they beat South Koreans Seo Hyo Won and Yu So Ra 9-11, 11-5, 11-2, 11-7 and will play Hong Kong's Jiang and Doo Hoi Kem next.
In the men's singles, world No. 135 Chen Feng was beaten 11-9, 11-5, 11-9, 11-6 by China's 14th-ranked Yan An.
Japan Open: Q-finals
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