Feng back in the winner's circle just before Olympics

Feng Tianwei put an end to a title drought that spanned almost two years on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) professional circuit yesterday, winning the Slovenia Open.

Facing a lower-ranked opponent she had never lost to on three previous encounters on Tour, the world No. 6 capitalised on the opportunity and beat South Korean Jeon Ji Hee 11-9, 8-11, 10-12, 11-3, 11-5, 11-8. This is the Singaporean's ninth career title and the first since she lifted the 2014 Japan Open, albeit a lower-tier one.

While she did not win a Tour event last year, Feng beat current world No. 1 Liu Shiwen at the Asian Cup for her first continental title.

Held in Otocec, the Slovenia Open is a Challenge-level event - the lowest on the ITTF's three-tier World Tour. The Japan Open, in comparison, is a top-tier Super Series event.

Still, yesterday's victory against the world No. 11 is timely, two months to go before August's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Feng's last final on the ITTF circuit came at the Belgian Open, a Challenge event, last September.

The fact that her road to the final in Slovenia included a comprehensive 11-6, 11-4, 9-11, 11-1, 11-5 semi-final victory over Japanese world No. 7 Ai Fukuhara will also be a confidence booster.

"This was a tough stop," said the second seed, who was taken to a decider by South Korean old-timer Kim Kyung Ah in the round of 32.

"It wasn't easy persevering until the end, but hopefully winning a title will help give me more confidence for the next few competitions. I'll continue to work hard."

Feng and her team-mates are on a month-long trip, travelling from competitions in Europe to Australia and then Asia. They are in the hunt for precious ranking points that are critical for a more favourable draw in both the singles and team events at the Olympics.

They head to Melbourne next for the Australian Open that will be played from Wednesday to Sunday. Feng is the top seed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2016, with the headline 'Feng back in the winner's circle just before Olympics'. Print Edition | Subscribe