Paddlers' medal era ends

Singapore's Yu Mengyu consoling Feng Tianwei (right), while Kasumi Ishikawa (left) and Mima Ito celebrate the latter's victory over Feng, which gave Japan the winning point in their 3-1 victory over Singapore, and the team bronze.
Singapore's Yu Mengyu consoling Feng Tianwei (right), while Kasumi Ishikawa (left) and Mima Ito celebrate the latter's victory over Feng, which gave Japan the winning point in their 3-1 victory over Singapore, and the team bronze. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Younger S'pore side lose bronze to Japan, fail to deliver for first time in three Games

Spectators were shown hamming it up on the dance cams in the Riocentro Pavilion 3, as Pharrell Williams' Happy blared through the speakers - but all Feng Tianwei could do was stare blankly ahead.

So often the pillar and heroine of the national women's table tennis team, the world No. 4 is now arguably the person most responsible for Singapore's barren campaign at these Olympic Games.

The women's team were beaten 3-1 by familiar foes Japan in the bronze-medal play-off yesterday, a result that meant the Republic has failed to retain either the singles or team bronzes from the last Games in London.

Given her experience and record against Japanese opponents, world No. 4 and team captain Feng had been expected to spearhead the team's charge for third place yesterday.

This was despite the fact that Japan as second seeds had an overall better squad. All three Japanese players are ranked among the top 10 while two have prior Olympic experience.

But Feng, a three-time medallist from two previous Olympics, lost both the singles matches she was pencilled in for yesterday.

World No. 13 Yu Mengyu had given Singapore a promising start when she upset world No. 8 Ai Fukuhara 4-11, 11-5, 11-3, 4-11, 11-5.

But that proved to be the only point Singapore earned.

In the second singles, Feng let slip a 10-7 lead in the opening game against Kasumi Ishikawa, allowing her world No. 6 opponent to score the next five points and eventually take the match 12-10, 11-6, 11-7.

In the doubles, Zhou Yihan and Yu got an early lead but were eventually beaten by Fukuhara and Mima Ito 9-11, 11-9, 11-1, 14-12.

Tasked with salvaging the best-of-five tie in the fourth match against Ito, Feng was again whitewashed, beaten 11-9, 11-4, 11-6 by the Japanese prodigy, who is just 15 years old.

The 29-year-old Singaporean herself admitted that she must bear responsibility for the Republic's disappointing campaign.

She said: "We lost this tie because of me. I was the one who dropped two points, so I'm not happy with how I performed.

"Mengyu and Yihan did very well. They may have lost the doubles match, but they played to their potential."

Coupled with the 4-0 thrashing Feng got from Fukuhara in the singles quarter-finals, yesterday's losses mean she has failed to take even one game off three Japanese opponents in three matches in Rio.

Said Feng: "My opponents were very aggressive and effective against me. My back was always against the wall and in those situations, the speed and quality of my shots were just not good enough.

"It wasn't easy for us to make it to the final four. I've learnt lessons from this Olympics and will continue to work hard and strive for the 2020 Tokyo Games for another personal breakthrough."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Paddlers' medal era ends'. Print Edition | Subscribe