SEA Games: Feng Tianwei's long wait for revenge finally ends, thrilled to land a gold which has 'a lot of signifcance'

Feng Tianwei reacting after scoring a point against compatriot Zhou Yihan during the women's singles table tennis final, on Aug 22, 2017.
Feng Tianwei reacting after scoring a point against compatriot Zhou Yihan during the women's singles table tennis final, on Aug 22, 2017.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Singapore's Feng Tianwei (left) and Zhou Yihan shaking hands after their finals match, on Aug 22, 2017.
Singapore's Feng Tianwei (left) and Zhou Yihan shaking hands after their finals match, on Aug 22, 2017.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

KUALA LUMPUR -Down three match points in yesterday's semi-finals against defending SEA Games singles champion Suthasini Sawettabut, Feng Tianwei turned to the only person who could help her.

Herself.

From 7-10 in the deciding seventh game, the world No. 6 clawed her way back to level the scores at 12-12, before completing the comeback 11-7, 13-15, 11-1,11-9, 6-11, 9-11, 14-12.

Those powers of recovery were again in evidence in the final against compatriot Zhou Yihan as Feng twice trailed before prevailing 9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 13-11.

On her semi-final rally, she said: "I told myself, 'Feng Tianwei, you haven't lost, you still have a chance of winning a point', so I didn't give up."

This was the 30-year-old's third Games singles title after her wins in 2009 and 2011 and it was surely the sweetest.

Feng was the heavy favourite at the 2015 Singapore Games, but was knocked out of the group stage after a shock loss to Suthasini, then 21 and ranked 107th in the world - 103 places below the Singapore star.

The Thai's victory also ended a sequence of 10 straight singles gold medals by Singaporean women.

Two years was an agonising time to dwell on redemption and revenge but Feng, who was dropped by the Singapore Table Tennis Association last October and now works with her own ad hoc team of coaches and sparring partners, said the loss made her become a better paddler.

She had already beaten Suthasini earlier this month at the T2 Asia-Pacific Table Tennis League in Johor Baru and looked largely untroubled in their Games rematch in Kuala Lumpur as she cruised to a 3-1 lead.

But Suthasini, now the world No. 57, refused to buckle and won the next two games before putting herself on the brink of a second straight final appearance.

Feng said: "These two years have been a long wait for me, but it was a worthwhile wait. It's demanded me to constantly challenge myself so I feel very happy.

"This gold medal has a lot of signifiance for me."

In the men's final, which was another all-Singapore clash, defending champion Gao Ning, who will retire after next year's Asian Games in Indonesia, defeated team-mate Clarence Chew 5-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-5, 11-6 to clinch the gold medal.

Singapore had won the men's and women's doubles but lost the mixed doubles final at the Malaysian International Trade and Exhibition Centre Hall 7 on Sunday.

The competition takes a break on Wednesday (Aug 23) before resuming on Thursday with the men's and women's team event which ends on Saturday.

World No. 52 Zhou, who was making her singles debut at the biennial Games after being called up as a late replacement for the injured Yu Mengyu, was pleased to have pushed Feng close.

The 23-year-old said: "From the start, I took the lead quite often, but I got a little anxious later on and started making some mistakes.

"Overall, I'm very pleased with my performance. Le Jie (sister) did really well. I'm really happy for Le Jie."

"Le Le" is Feng's nickname among the Singapore paddlers, which translates to joyful.

Given what she has gone through in the past year to get here, it was certainly an apt description.