Table tennis: Teen wins but Feng gratified by bronze

Feng Tianwei in action against Miu Hirano of Japan in the ITTF Women's World Cup semi-finals in Philadelphia yesterday (Sunday night US time). The world No. 6, who was the top seed, was beaten 4-2 by her 16-year-old opponent, who went on to win the t
Feng Tianwei in action against Miu Hirano of Japan in the ITTF Women's World Cup semi-finals in Philadelphia yesterday (Sunday night US time). The world No. 6, who was the top seed, was beaten 4-2 by her 16-year-old opponent, who went on to win the tournament.PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL TABLE TENNIS FEDERATION

Top seed relieved despite falling in semi-final, as she rediscovers 'pure passion' for her sport

Rather than rue a lost opportunity - and likely her closest shot yet - at an individual world title, Feng Tianwei was instead thankful at the conclusion of the International Table Tennis Federation Women's World Cup.

The world No. 6 finished third early yesterday morning in Philadelphia, beating Hong Kong's Tie Yana 12-10, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8, 11-9 for her third bronze in eight appearances at the annual tournament.

China's Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, the world's top two paddlers, withdrew because of injury, paving the way for the prestigious event - which features 20 players who qualified - to crown a champion not from China for the first time in the tournament's 20-year history.

But Feng, who was promoted to top seed, was unable to take advantage of their absence and make a maiden appearance in the final, falling in the penultimate stage to Japanese fifth seed Miu Hirano.

Feng was beaten by her 17th-ranked opponent 11-3, 6-11, 11-7, 11-13, 9-11, 13-15.

PROCESS OF REDISCOVERY

To come in with preparation that wasn't ideal, and to walk away with this bronze - to me, it's not (a) bad result.

FENG TIANWEI, who won her third bronze medal in eight appearances at the International Table Tennis Federation Women's World Cup.

But instead of disappointment, there was only relief for Feng.

"This event allowed me to rediscover myself again and regain that pure passion for table tennis. It's a mentality that's very hard to come by," Feng said in text messages sent to The Straits Times through the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).

A request for a phone interview was not granted by the STTA.

Perhaps niggling injuries and a struggle with form meant that the bronze at the World Cup was gratifying to Feng.

The 30-year-old had taken a break from training because of her chronic knee injury following the Rio Olympics, where the women's team had a barren campaign, the first in three Games.

Said Feng: "I did not train for more than 40 days after the Olympics, and only got back into it about a week before the competition. To come in with preparation that wasn't ideal, and to walk away with this bronze - to me, it's not (a) bad result."

She was 10-5 up in the fourth game against Hirano in the semi-final, one point away from a commanding 3-1 lead before a change in momentum allowed the Japanese to claw back five straight points.

The gutsy 16-year-old, making her World Cup debut, hung on to win that crucial game, the match, and eventually went on to beat Chinese Taipei's second-seeded Cheng I-ching, 24, in the final to become the tournament's youngest champion.

Hirano walked away with the winner's cheque of US$45,000 (S$61,000) while Cheng took home US$25,000.

"Without China competing, everyone else was trying to seize their opportunity. It is quite a pity that I wasn't able to capitalise while I was in the lead against Hirano," said Feng, who pocketed US$15,000 for the bronze.

National women's head coach Chen Zhibin said more attention will now be paid to how Feng handles her shots when leading.

He said: "Quite often, Tianwei loses a game when she's in the lead, or ends up playing too conservatively when she has the lead. This is an issue that we need to target in training."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Teen wins but Feng gratified by bronze'. Print Edition | Subscribe