KUALA LUMPUR - For someone who has won almost everything there is to win in table tennis, yesterday’s triumph in the SEA Games women’s doubles would ordinarily not rank too high in Feng Tianwei’s list of accomplishments.
But this is no regular SEA Games gold for the 30-year-old as she teamed up with Yu Mengyu to beat compatriots and defending champions Zhou Yihan and Lin Ye 11-8, 11-9, 11-13, 8-11, 11-6.
Last October, Feng’s professional life took a sharp turn after she was dropped by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).
The world No. 6 now works with her own team comprising ad hoc coaches and sparring partners but was part of the STTA’s centralised training for national paddlers before the Kuala Lumpur Games.
Feng told The Straits Times last night: “It’s not affected anything. It’s always been about fighting for a gold for Singapore. The other thing is to challenge myself, that’s the main thing. I’ve never focused on any other things.”
Her unrelenting quest for medals was helped by the fact that her doubles partner was the 28-year-old Yu. Feng and the world No. 33 were national team-mates for years. They won the doubles title at the 2012 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour Grand Finals and have combined for three World Championships doubles bronzes (2013, 2015, 2017).
Even a bad fall, as Feng slipped while trying to return a shot and hit her head on the floor, did little to rattle her. She rested for a few minutes, was checked by the medical staff and returned to complete the third game.
Yu, Feng’s doubles partner at the 2015 Singapore Games where they lost in the final, said: “I was worried she was hurt. I’m still worried about her and hope it won’t affect her tomorrow.”
The men’s doubles final was also an all-Singapore final as Gao Ning and Pang Xue Jie beat team-mates Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh 11-4, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6.
In the mixed doubles, Pang and Yu lost 11-7, 9-11, 6-11, 8-11 to Thai pair Padasak Tanviriyavechakul and Suthasini Sawettabut in the final at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre.
Their loss signalled the end of Singapore’s victorious streak in this event at the biennial Games that began at the 1999 edition in Brunei. The only exception was in 2013, when the mixed doubles was not contested in Myanmar.
It has been a moderately successful season for Feng since she was forced to venture out alone last October. She captured her 10th ITTF singles title in April at the Korean Open, and reached the last eight of the World Championships in June.
The SEA Games might lack the same level of competition or prestige but it remains equally important to Feng, who had won just five golds (singles in 2009, 2011; doubles in 2011; team in 2009, 2015) prior to last night’s final.
It could, and should, have been six golds but she suffered a shock group-stage exit in the singles two years ago after losing to Suthasini. The then-107th ranked Thai went on to win the gold medal.
Feng, who begins her singles campaign today, said: “Today’s win was encouraging but I know I need to perform even better. I do want that singles gold medal.”
It was perhaps fitting that one of the songs played during the change of ends in her match was Survivor by Destiny’s Child.
Throughout her career, Feng has proven she is most certainly one.