TOKYO - First there was joy for Singapore table tennis as world No. 47 Yu Mengyu progressed to the Olympics women's singles quarter-finals on Tuesday (July 27), but that was followed by disappointment hours later as ninth-ranked Feng Tianwei saw her run end in the round of 16 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Yu shone as brightly as her accessories - a gold necklace, bracelet and rings while wearing a red jersey with a golden lion motif - when she beat American Liu Juan 4-2 (11-9, 11-9, 11-9, 8-11, 6-11).
The world No. 449, a penhold-grip southpaw and a fierce attacker, had belied her lowly rankings to claim the scalps of Nigeria's Olufunke Oshonaike (175th), Spain's Galia Dvorak (77th), Slovakia's Barbora Balazova (54th) and Bernadette Szocs (27th)of Romania in earlier rounds.
Having to deal with her opponent's formidable spin variety, Yu trailed for most of the match, holding the lead on only 12 of the first 96 points. But the only statistic that mattered was the winning point, and she will face Japan's world No. 10 Kasumi Ishikawa on Wednesday for a place in the final four.
Both paddlers are familiar foes and have met 15 times, with Yu winning seven of those encounters, including their last meeting at the 2016 Polish Open.
While it looks like a 50-50 tie on paper, Yu told The Straits Times: "We haven't played each other for five years, and she has been recording good results during this time while I have been hampered by injury. But now that we have reached this point, I will approach this match with a battling mentality."
The 31-year-old Liaoning native has fought hard against recurring back ailments, and even in the months leading up to Tokyo 2020, she feared she would not be able to compete at her second Olympics as the injury flared up again during the WTT Star Contender in March.
She said: "It would hurt so bad that I'm not able to train and it can be very depressing to watch others train and be missing out.
"So whether I'm trailing or facing difficult situations, I will still press on as long as I can play because I don't want to have any regrets of not giving it my all."
She lightened up when asked about her competition glitter, adding: "I just think they are very pretty. They make me glow and stand out... Hopefully those who do not know me will follow and support me."
In the other round of 16 tie, Feng had hoped for a breakthrough against Germany's world No. 22 Han Ying, an opponent she had not beaten in four previous encounters. While she could not better her rival, a women's team silver medallist at Rio 2016, she was not helped by a controversial call by the umpire.
The 34-year-old was leading 7-3 in the fifth game when Han hit the ball out before it touched Feng's bat, only for the point to be awarded to the former.
After a brief impasse in which Feng tried to explain the situation and Han did not concede the point, they had to continue play.
The Singaporean, a three-time Olympic medallist, was visibly affected as she lost seven out of the next eight points to lose 4-1 (13-11, 11-7, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8).
Feng grimaced as she told ST: "The umpire misjudged it. It was a turning point in the match because I was having the upper hand.
"I had my chances when I had a game point in the first game and led 4-0 in the second, but I did not adapt well, could not dictate the tempo, and overall it was a bit messy. I got going only in the fourth game, which was too slow.
"It's not easy playing against a defensive chopper like this because I don't train much against this type of players, and I just have to move on to focus on the women's team event (which starts on Sunday)."
Meanwhile, Japan's hopes of a men's singles medal were dashed in the round of 16 as Slovenia's world No. 28 Darko Jorgic stunned fourth-ranked Tomokazu Harimoto 4-3 (10-12, 11-9, 11-3, 10-12, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7) while Germany's world No. 8 Dimitrij Ovtcharov ousted 17th-ranked Koki Niwa 4-1 (11-4, 7-11, 11-0, 11-7, 11-9).