TOKYO - Four months ago, she had to be escorted in a wheelchair to board her flight home from Qatar after her chronic back injury flared up during the WTT Star Contender event in Doha, raising doubts if she would be fit for the Tokyo Olympics.
Now, Singapore paddler Yu Mengyu is one win away from claiming an Olympic medal after she beat Japan's world No. 10 Kasumi Ishikawa 4-1 (8-11, 11-5, 14-12, 11-6, 11-2) in 47 minutes in the women's singles quarter-finals at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Wednesday (July 28).
Singapore has captured three Olympic medals in table tennis. The first was a women's team silver at Beijing 2008. Four years later in London, they claimed a team bronze while Feng Tianwei bagged a bronze in the women's singles.
Yu, who with badminton player Loh Kean Yew were the country's flagbearer at the opening ceremony, said: “It was actually a tough match that the scoreline may not show, especially in the first four games.
“My opponent plays an exquisite style and it’s quite difficult to deal with."
She said the third game was the turning point of the contest.
“Trailing 10-8, I managed to save some match points that I can’t count now, which boosted me and handed the pressure over to my opponent,” Yu said.
The world No. 47 will face China's top-ranked Chen Meng, who beat Hong Kong's world No. 15 Doo Hoi Kem 4-0 (12-10, 11-9, 11-6, 11-5), in the semi-finals on Thursday.
Another win will guarantee an unprecedented silver in the event for the Republic. At the very least, there will be another chance in the bronze play-off.
Ishikawa had a 8-7 advantage in their head-to-head record going into the showdown with Yu, and this match was similarly even.
Yu lost an opening game for the first time in her Tokyo 2020 campaign, but showed great resolve to work her way back into the match, especially in the third game when she came back from 10-8 down to take a 2-1 lead.
Ishikawa, 28, was a member of the Japanese team that finished third at Rio 2016 and runners-up at London 2012.
She said: “It was bad luck that I couldn’t take some momentum when I was in the lead, especially during the third game where I had a 10-8 lead but then she came back and I couldn’t take the initiative. I’m very unhappy now.
“We have also prepared quite a lot for the team event. I would like to change my spirit now and do my best so that I don’t have to feel unhappy later.”
“During the last two Olympics I got two medals, and I will do my best to get the third one and try to do better."
The 31-year-old Yu's result means she has surpassed her quarter-final run in her Olympic debut at Rio 2016.
She said: “I’m so happy to win. It has been the best result for me at an Olympics, and I have no pressure at all to compete in the semi-finals as it’s a valuable chance for me to play one of the world’s top three."
After a bye into the second round, Yu steamrolled past Portugal's world No. 63 Shao Jieni 4-0 on Sunday and swept Taiwanese world No. 8 Cheng I-Ching on Tuesday, before seeing off America's 449th-ranked Liu Juan 4-2 in the round of 16 later that day.
Compatriot and three-time Olympic medallist Feng was beaten 4-1 by Germany's Han Ying at the same stage.
Tong 'optimistic' ahead of Yu's semis
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said yesterday he was hopeful of paddler Yu Mengyu's chances as she aims to topple China's top-ranked Chen Meng in the table tennis women's singles semi-finals today.
He said in a statement last night: "I thought Mengyu played really well today. We are optimistic, even though we will have a tough match playing against the world No. 1.
"I think she will be very eager to show what she can do, and what Singapore can do."
Mr Tong arrived in Tokyo on Monday and is accompanied by Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua.
Mr Tong added that the Singapore delegation in Tokyo felt safe and "have been well looked after" at what he described as an exceptional and unique Olympics that are being held "under very difficult circumstances" because of the pandemic.
On the performance of Team Singapore athletes who have competed, the Minister said he observed they had "put their heart and soul" into their respective events.
"They deserve their moment and we are here to support them in every way that we can," he said.