Table tennis: Feng Tianwei targets three golds in KL Games after statement win over Thailand's reigning champion

Singapore's Feng Tianwei returning in her T2Apac match against Thai Suthasini Sawettabut. The world No. 6 may have to overcome the same opponent in order to clinch SEA Games women's singles gold this month.
Singapore's Feng Tianwei returning in her T2Apac match against Thai Suthasini Sawettabut. The world No. 6 may have to overcome the same opponent in order to clinch SEA Games women's singles gold this month.PHOTO COURTESY OF T2APAC

Statement win for Feng over rival ahead of KL, where Thai will be defending singles title

The signs were clear right from the start that Feng Tianwei wanted victory a little more than usual in her T2 Asia-Pacific Table Tennis League (T2Apac) match yesterday against Suthasini Sawettabut.

Such was Feng's focus against the defending SEA Games champion that instead of walking to her corner to towel off her perspiration in between the breaks during the first two games, the Singaporean paced restlessly at the table, waiting for her opponent to return.

Feng eventually won 11-4, 11-6, 11-6, 11-10, 5-1 at the Pinewood Studios in Johor Baru's Iskandar region, and said her performance bodes well for the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

She had suffered a shock group stage loss to Suthasini at the 2015 edition in Singapore and failed to qualify for the women's singles semi-finals.

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The Republic won gold in the other six events.

Feng said: "I knew going in that this would be a tough match, because I lost to her before and she's one of the strongest contenders at the next SEA Games. So I was especially focused when playing her this time."

But the world No. 6 was modest in victory.

She said: "I didn't expect to win all five games. I thought our chances were about even. Every game was tight, but I think I played better at the critical junctures and I'm encouraged by my performance."

In the third game, she fell into a 0-5 hole, but replied with eight straight points and an 11-1 run to win.

In the fourth game, trailing 5-9, Feng again raised her game and won six of the next seven points to prevail.

The newly-formed T2Apac competition features four six-member teams playing each other in a round-robin format over six rounds. It deviates from the sport's traditional rules in several ways.

There is no deuce and instead of best-of-five or best-of-seven games, the T2Apac adopts a time-based format and players try to win as many games during each 24-minute singles match.

The umpire can call for a "kill zone" game if there are less than two minutes left and a new game has yet to start. The first player to score five points clinches the "kill zone" game.

World No. 57 Suthasini acknowledged Feng's superiority in yesterday's match, but remained confident of retaining gold at the Aug 19-30 SEA Games.

"(Feng) played really well. Before, when I played her at the SEA Games, she was not so good, but she was much better today," said the 23-year-old.

"But my preparation is good, and I hope I can win again in Malaysia."

The KL Games will be Feng's first appearance at the biennial competition since parting ways with the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) last October.

But she insisted that her preparations have not changed significantly from previous years.

"There's been centralised training with STTA all along, so there's not much difference," said the 30-year-old, who will continue to train with the national team for the next two weeks.

It has been a moderately successful season for Feng.

She captured her 10th International Table Tennis Federation singles title in April at the Korean Open, and reached the last eight of the World Championships in June.

She is Singapore's top-ranked paddler - Zeng Jian , who is not competing in Malaysia, is the next highest at No. 18 - and will feature in the singles, doubles and team events.

Feng said: "I know how important the SEA Games is and I want to win gold for all three events."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'Games confidence booster'. Print Edition | Subscribe