Bowling: Late stumble as Feng falls to Hirano again

Though seeded fourth, Feng Tianwei could not clear the first hurdle at the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Grand Finals, losing to 16-year-old Japanese World Cup winner Miu Hirano.
Though seeded fourth, Feng Tianwei could not clear the first hurdle at the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Grand Finals, losing to 16-year-old Japanese World Cup winner Miu Hirano.PHOTO: POWER SPORT IMAGES

Fresh from a big victory over the world's best player just days earlier, Feng Tianwei had been expected to carry her winning momentum into her next event.

However, her campaign at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals ended prematurely yesterday after a loss in her opening match.

Feng was beaten by Japan's newly crowned World Cup winner Miu Hirano in a round-of-16 match that went the distance, losing 11-6, 11-4, 9-11, 6-11, 11-7, 5-11, 4-11.

The prestigious season-ender is the 30-year-old's first on the International Table Tennis Federation professional tour since her unceremonious axing from the national set-up by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) at the end of October.

Yesterday's loss was her second successive one against Hirano, as she was also beaten by the Japanese teenager at the Women's World Cup semi-finals two months ago in Philadelphia.

  • 0-5

  • Feng Tianwei's record against Japanese players since August - losing to Ai Fukuhara, Kasumi Ishikawa and Mima Ito at the Rio Olympics and to Miu Hirano at the World Cup in October and now at the World Tour Grand Finals in Qatar.

The 16-year-old went on to become that event's youngest and first Japanese champion.

Yet, with decisive wins in the opening two games, it had looked as if Feng, the fourth seed in the prestigious year-ender, would be able to turn the tables on her young adversary yesterday.

Her ninth-seeded opponent's backhand shot, however, proved to be the frequent stumbling block.

Feng told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Doha yesterday: "My opponent looked like she was struggling to get into the rhythm of the match in the first two games, while I didn't adjust fast enough as the match went on."

Travelling across the country in China, where she has been taking part in the Chinese Table Tennis Super League (CTTSL), has also taken a toll.

Feng was competing in Inner Mongolia - where she beat world No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion Ding Ning - just four days before the Grand Finals began and had to transit in Beijing before making her way to Qatar for the season finale.

She said: "That win over Ding Ning was a big psychological boost, but physically I'm still not quite there yet.

"I've been travelling non-stop and haven't been able to train properly in the last few months and that definitely showed towards the end."

Her exclusion from the national team means she no longer trains, travels or competes using the STTA's resources and this was something she admitted that she is still getting used to.

"This is the first competition I'm going to where I'm handling every aspect of competing by myself," said Feng, who played without a coach yesterday.

"It's a big challenge and I'm doing a lot of things for the first time, but I'm learning along the way.

"Winning or losing isn't the most critical thing for me now. I wasn't able to train for 21/2 months and that's never happened to me in all the years I've played table tennis.

"Right now, it's more important to me that I get myself back the momentum of structured training and competing."

Feng will return to China next to continue playing in the CTTSL.

Zeng Jian, who is representing Singapore in the Under-21 women's singles event, will play her opener against Hong Kong's Doo Hoi Kem today.

May Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Late stumble as Feng fails to overcome Hirano again'. Print Edition | Subscribe