Table tennis: Jittery Feng's solo journey ends with Korean Open victory

Feng Tianwei beat Japan's Kasumi Ishikawa 12-10, 6-11, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9 yesterday to clinch her 10th ITTF singles title and increased her head-to-head record over Ishikawa to 10-5.
Feng Tianwei beat Japan's Kasumi Ishikawa 12-10, 6-11, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9 yesterday to clinch her 10th ITTF singles title and increased her head-to-head record over Ishikawa to 10-5.PHOTO COURTESY OF ITTF

Even though she is a three-time Olympic medallist with multiple titles on the professional circuit, Feng Tianwei still felt nervous in yesterday's Korea Open final.

But the Singaporean managed to overcome her jitters and beat Japan's Kasumi Ishikawa 12-10, 6-11, 11-9, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9 to clinch her first International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) singles title since being axed from the national set-up in October.

She told The Straits Times last night: "This is a result that I've earned for myself, after having to take care of my own training and preparation.

"It's been a learning experience and I'm clearer about what I have to do from now on.

"It's a great confidence boost, as well as an encouragement. It shows that what I've worked hard for this whole time has come to something."

The world No. 3 was cut from the national team by the Singapore Table Tennis Association in October, with the association saying that she did not fit into its plans for rejuvenation.

Since then, Feng has had to form her own entourage comprising coaches and sparring partners but has not been unduly hampered.

At the China Table Tennis Super League in December, she beat world No. 1 Ding Ning during a match between their respective clubs. Following that success, she also reached the quarter-finals of last week's Asian Table Tennis Championships.

In yesterday's final, it was German player Shan Xiaona who was in Feng's coaching corner. The Liaoning native, who was part of Germany's silver-winning team at last year's Olympics, offered pointers as a coach typically would.

Feng told ST the arrangement was ad hoc and that it only took place during the women's singles final.

"We have a good relationship off the table and she was able to give me some strategic advice and encourage me during the match," she added.

"For my previous match, I had other friends helping me as my courtside guide. There are no arrangements for Shan to continue in this role."

The win gave Feng her 10th career ITTF singles title - her first since last June's Slovenia Open - and also extended her head-to-head record over Ishikawa to 10-5.

The latter had won their last two meetings, with the most recent being the bronze medal match of the women's team event of the Rio Olympics last year. Then, Ishikawa won 3-0 and Japan took bronze with a 3-1 victory.

Feng, who in 2010 anchored the Singapore team to victory over China in the final of the World Team Table Tennis Championships, is hopeful that yesterday's win bodes well ahead of next month's World Championships in Dusseldorf, Germany, where she is seeking a top-four finish.

She added: "Maybe I'll have a chance (at) the world title."

•Additional reporting by May Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Jittery Feng's solo journey ends with Korea Open victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe