Olympics: Medal hopes now with team

Feng Tianwei (background) grimacing as she failed to beat Ai Fukuhara, against whom she had a 14-3 record.
Feng Tianwei (background) grimacing as she failed to beat Ai Fukuhara, against whom she had a 14-3 record.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Feng fails to retain singles bronze medal, Yu also bows out in quarter-finals

With Singapore's top table tennis player one game from an unexpected quarter-final exit at the Olympic women's singles competition, the murmurs from Team Singapore officials sitting in the stands was this: We need a miracle now.

But none came from Feng Tianwei, so often the Republic's miracle worker, nor did teammate Yu Mengyu come up with a save after Feng had been given the boot.

Feng was whitewashed 14-12, 11-8, 11-7, 11-5 by Japan's Ai Fukuhara, while Yu lost 8-11, 11-6, 5-11, 6-11, 11-9, 6-11 to North Korea's Kim Song I.

Their losses mean Singapore will not retain its medal in the singles - Feng was the 2012 bronze medallist. Hopes of a podium finish now rest on the team event, which begins on Friday.

What could have been a triumphant National Day - victories in both quarter-finals would have ensured at least a medal for Team Singapore - ended in tears and disappointment.

UPPED HER GAME

Her shots were incredible. I tried to take it a point at a time and adapt as I went along, but she was always a step ahead.

FENG TIANWEI , the second seed, trying to explain her loss to Ai Fukuhara.

Feng, in particular, had little explanation for her shock defeat by an opponent she had a superior (14-3) head-to-head record against.

"This is probably the best that she's performed in the times that we've played," said the Singaporean ruefully.

"Her shots were incredible. I tried to take it a point at a time and adapt as I went along, but she was always a step ahead of me."

Indeed, with a sizeable Japanese crowd backing her from the stands, world No. 8 Fukuhara was simply unplayable, aggressive in attack and largely error-free while forcing mistakes from Feng.

The Singaporean, the world No. 4 and second seed in the singles at the Olympics, added: "There is some regret, but Fukuhara was the better player today."

Hopes that Yu could keep the Republic's hopes alive were also dashed when she could not find a way past defensive specialist Kim. The 21-year-old, an alumnus of the 2010 Youth Olympics, is on a fairytale run in Rio, having already taken out Japan's fourth seed Kasumi Ishikawa in the third round.

Her head bowed and shoulders slumped, Yu's body language in defeat said it all. Tears flowed as the emotional 26-year-old met the media after her match, requesting time to compose herself before she spoke about her loss to the world No. 50.

Said the 13th-ranked Singaporean, playing in her first Olympics: "To not have a Chinese player in this quarter, I think both of us knew the chance of making the semi-finals was there for the taking.

"It doesn't feel good to not be able to capitalise on that opportunity. But my opponent was more tenacious than I thought and her technique was far superior to mine."

The test for the paddlers now is to regroup in time for the team event, where they have a potentially trickier road to the podium with China drawn in their half. The team begins their campaign against Egypt.

Said Yu: "It'll be very important to recover from this. We've still got to take it one tie at a time."

Feng, 29, will no doubt be counted on as the captain. Having led Singapore to two team medals from the last two Games, she is staying hopeful.

She said: "We still have a chance in the team event. We will continue to work hard."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Medal hopes now with team'. Print Edition | Subscribe