Olympics: No. 2 seeding beckons Feng Tianwei after late run

Her highest-ever Olympic seeding could help her avoid early clash with a Chinese player

Tireless travel across continents for more than a month, playing in various competitions in the hunt for precious ranking points, has paid off for table tennis player Feng Tianwei.

The Singaporean has regained her status as the highest-rated non-Chinese player in the world rankings after she was bumped up two rungs in the July standings - moving from No. 6 to No. 4.

More significantly, it will likely earn her the No. 2 seeding in the women's singles competition at next month's Olympic Games, paving the way for her to enjoy a more favourable draw as she attempts to at least match or better her bronze-medal showing from 2012.

It is Feng's highest-ever Olympic seeding in three Games. In both 2008 and 2012, she was seeded sixth.

Of the world's top three paddlers - China's Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling respectively - only Ding has been pencilled in to contest the singles. The Chinese Table Tennis Association handed its other singles slot to defending champion Li Xiaoxia, who is ranked No. 5. Each team is allowed a maximum of two entries in the singles.


Feng Tianwei in action at the Asian Cup in Dubai three months ago. Singapore’s most bemedalled Olympian won her first pro tour title in two years at last month’s Slovenia Open, giving her a boost in the rankings. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CONFIDENCE OVER NUMBERS

It's more crucial that I have the confidence to meet and overcome challenges, and focus on preparing myself to the best that I can.

FENG TIANWEI, on her likely No. 2 seeding at next month's Olympic Games.

The Olympic draw scheduled for Aug 3 is based on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF)'s August world rankings. But with no more events scheduled between now and then, no change is expected to the rankings.

Being seeded second would ensure Feng, who won a bronze in 2012, avoids a clash with a Chinese player at least until the semi-finals. But Singapore's most successful Olympian - she also has a team silver from 2008 and team bronze from 2012 - played down the significance of the seeding.

She told The Straits Times: "When it comes to the draw, it's not that different among the top four seeds.

"It's not that important what seed I am. It's more crucial that I have the confidence to meet and overcome challenges, and focus on preparing myself to the best that I can."

Feng, who turns 30 next month, has struggled with chronic injuries in recent years, which have affected her form and confidence. The change of balls used in competitions in 2014 - the ones used now are made of a different material and are slightly wider in circumference - also took some adjusting to.

But a timely return to the winners' circle at last month's Slovenia Open put an end to a title drought that spanned almost two years on the professional circuit and gave the Singaporean a boost up the rankings.

With team-mates Yu Mengyu (from No. 16 to No. 15) and Zhou Yihan (from No. 47 to a career-high No. 34) also improving, the Singapore women secured a top-four spot in the Olympic team rankings. This ensures they will avoid an early clash with the major powers.

Said women's head coach Chen Zhibin: "This has given our training a boost. It's motivation, but it's also pressure.

"We have to focus on targeted training now, and ensure that the preparation we make will enable the players to get into competition mode as soon as possible."

Singapore will field five paddlers across three events (women's singles, women's team and men's singles) at the Olympics. The squad will leave for a training camp in the United States on July 20 before heading to Rio de Janeiro.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'No. 2 seeding beckons Feng after late run'. Print Edition | Subscribe