For a player in search of both confidence and form, the new season brought more setbacks instead for Feng Tianwei, who suffered a shock loss yesterday in the opening round of the Hungarian Open.
The Singaporean, seeded third at the Budapest tournament, went down 3-4 (9-11, 11-6, 9-11, 10-12, 11-6, 11-9, 4-11) to Japan's Natsumi Nakahata, a 19-year-old who has no notable previous international result and is unranked.
Hao Anlin, assistant head coach of the national women's table tennis team, said Feng had struggled to cope with her opponent's serve early on.
He told The Straits Times: "The Japanese player served in such a way that Tianwei wasn't really able to get a good view of it. We raised it with the umpire, but no action was taken nor was there any warning given.
"It makes a big difference in a game if you can't receive even just three to four points well enough."
Hao added that Feng's unheralded opponent played aggressively, and was particularly effective in attacking her backhand.
"Tianwei fared better after a while, but still really could not really cope with receiving her opponent's serves."
The result is further unwelcome news for Feng, the world No. 8 and a singles bronze medallist at the 2012 Olympic Games, who has in recent months been on the receiving end of several shock losses.
She was booted out in the first round of the Swedish Open in November, losing to then-world No. 46 Tetyana Bilenko of Ukraine. At the Women's World Cup in October, she also lost her opening match to Germany's Petrissa Solja, then ranked 20 rungs below her.
Given that the 29-year-old is expected to do the heavy lifting for Singapore at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Kuala Lumpur next month, Feng is racing against time to arrest the slide.
Meanwhile, her team-mates fared better in the opening round of the women's singles.
Yu Mengyu got past Poland's Katarzyna Grzybowska 4-1 (11-8, 7-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-6) while Zhou Yihan edged out Egyptian Dina Meshref 4-3 (11-13, 11-5, 8-11, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-1). Lin Ye beat Puerto Rican Adriana Diaz 4-1 (6-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-7, 11-4) and Zeng Jian took out South Korea's Park Young Sook 4-1 (11-8, 11-8, 10-12, 11-1, 11-9).