Learning to compete without a weight on her shoulders turned out to be the key to one of Feng Tianwei's most notable victories after the Singapore paddler beat China's Liu Shiwen to win the Asian Cup yesterday.
The world No. 4 upset No. 3 and top seed Liu 3-11, 11-8, 11-9, 7-11, 11-1, 12-10 for the Republic's first triumph in the women's singles at the annual tournament.
The win, Feng's first continental trophy and also first title this year, earned her US$14,000 (S$19,500) but also a whole lot of confidence to start the season with.
The 28-year-old told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Jaipur, India yesterday: "I didn't think that I would get into the final, so mentally I was able to stay relaxed today."
Earlier in the tournament, she had thumped another Chinese player, world No. 6 Zhu Yuling, 3-0 in the group stage to earn a place in the knockout rounds.
Feng had never gotten the better of the two-time world junior champion and semi-finalist at the 2013 World Championships in six previous meetings.
Feng added: "Perhaps Liu was feeling a lot more pressure after I beat Zhu, so there was more expectation on her to perform.
"This gives me the confidence that I have what it takes to beat top players.
"I just hope I don't let the victory become a burden, so that I can repeat the performance in future."
This is just the third time in nine meetings that Feng has beaten Liu. The Singaporean's last win over the three-time Asian Cup and World Cup champion and last year's Asian Games gold medallist came at the 2011 China Open.
Her other victory took place at the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships, when Singapore sensationally toppled China for the world title.
Feng's win makes it the first time since 2007 that the women's singles had been won by a player outside of China - and only the fifth time in the 32-year history of the event. Though consisting of only 16 players, the field was an elite one, with top teams Japan and South Korea sending their best. Feng had beaten Japan's world No. 11 Ai Fukuhara 4-3 in the semi-finals.
Singapore had taken second place thrice before, with Feng herself winning silver in 2008 and a bronze in 2010. She finished a disappointing sixth last year.
Said Jing Junhong, the national women's coach: "Technically, Tianwei did what she is capable of but the crucial difference was in her mental state of mind.
"Liu was quite inhibited today and Tianwei was able to capitalise on her opponent's weakness. Tianwei had also previously never been able to beat Zhu. To be able to take out two Chinese players within a tournament is quite a psychological breakthrough for her.
"She had, in previous years, taken some time before finding her momentum in the season, so it's good that she got off to a good start earlier this time."
In the men's singles, former champion Gao Ning was eighth.