Commonwealth Games: Table tennis veteran Feng Tianwei reclaims singles title in comeback win

Feng Tianwei defeated compatriot Zeng Jian in the women's table tennis singles final at the Commonwealth Games on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Feng Tianwei (left) came back from three games down against Zeng Jian (right) to recapture the crown she held in 2010 and 2014. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Clarence Chew (left) and Ethan Poh claimed a bronze medal in the men's doubles third-place match, on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

BIRMINGHAM - As the strains of Majulah Singapura filled the National Exhibition Centre Hall 3 on Sunday (Aug 7), Feng Tianwei sang along atop the podium, before her lips quivered and tears started streaming down her face.

Minutes earlier, the 35-year-old had pulled off a remarkable fightback in an all-Singaporean Commonwealth Games table tennis women’s singles final to beat Zeng Jian 4-3 (6-11, 5-11, 8-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-8, 11-5).

Asked about the waterworks, the world No. 16 said: “It has been very emotional because I have gone through quite a lot to get here.

“I didn’t think about winning this gold medal. I had to come back to win 4-3 (against India’s Sreeja Akula) in the semi-final, and again today. It hasn’t been easy, but I really wanted to win something for Singapore, and I just gave it my all and never gave up.”

Feng and Zeng had pulled off stirring comeback wins in their respective semi-finals on Saturday to guarantee Singapore a 1-2 finish. In the quarter-finals, Zeng had also swept India’s defending champion Manika Batra.

Both attacking players pulled off several world-class rallies with high-quality strokes yesterday, but Feng used all of her experience to pull a rabbit out of the hat to get out of the rut against her 60th-ranked opponent.

Despite having to cope with wrist, shoulder and knee injuries, and taking on an opponent 10 years younger, she refused to throw in the towel even after Zeng took a three-game lead.

Silver-medallist Zeng paid tribute to her senior, saying: “Tianwei showed just why she deserves respect for the player she is and the career she has had. Her fighting spirit is something younger players like us can all learn from.

“After I was 3-0 up, I did not manage to react in time when Tianwei started to get a foothold in the match. But overall, I’m pleased with how I played throughout the singles event because I managed to deliver the levels I’m capable of.”

Similarly, national women’s coach Jing Junhong felt that this final serves as a good lesson for younger players.

She added: “It’s not easy to maintain such high standards after all these years. It is not just her tactical and technical abilities that were impressive, but her never-say-die attitude as well. Zeng Jian became more conservative after taking a big lead, she would have gotten more out of this match than just a silver medal.”

These are the Republic's third and fourth medals from table tennis at these Games, after the women's team won gold on Aug 1 and the men's team picked up a silver the following day.

Feng and Zeng then combined to show great resilience again in their comeback 3-2 (11-5, 8-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-3) win over Wales’ Charlotte Carey and Anna Hursey in the women’s doubles semi-finals.

This assures Feng a 13th Commonwealth Games medal since her 2010 debut, and gives her the chance to end her glittering Games career with a ninth gold on Monday.

They will meet Australia’s Lay Jian Fang and Jee Min-hyung, who beat Wong Xin Ru and Zhou Jingyi 3-0 (11-9, 11-9, 11-3) in the other semi-final. The Singaporeans will play the Welsh for bronze on Monday.

Meanwhile, Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh won a men’s doubles bronze for the Republic after beating Australia’s Finn Luu and Nicholas Lum 3-1 (11-4, 11-8, 8-11, 11-5) in the play-off for their first Commonwealth Games individual medal.

Chew, 26, said: “I’m very happy with this breakthrough. We have confidence and trust in one another, cover well for each other, and this medal shows we have the ability to compete at a high level.”

Poh, 23, added: “We were on top of them from the start and even after losing a game, we managed to stay aggressive, and it was nothing we couldn’t handle.

“On my end, I still can improve on my receiving and consistency but this medal gives us confidence going forward and aim higher.”

Chew returned for the mixed doubles bronze-medal match with Zeng and beat Aussies Lum and Jee 3-1 (11-8, 11-6, 7-11, 12-10) to take Singapore's table tennis medal tally at these Games to six.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.