SEA Games 2017

SEA Games: Pure joy for table tennis star Feng Tianwei after two years of hurt

Feng Tianwei reacts during her women's singles final against fellow Singaporean Zhou Yihan. She won 9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 13-11 for a gold that "has a lot of significance".
Feng Tianwei reacts during her women's singles final against fellow Singaporean Zhou Yihan. She won 9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 13-11 for a gold that "has a lot of significance".ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Feng saves five match points in semis against familiar foe Suthasini, goes on to reclaim gold

Facing three match points in yesterday's semi-finals against defending SEA Games women's singles champion Suthasini Sawettabut, Feng Tianwei turned to the only person who could help her. Herself.

Down 7-10 in the deciding game, the world No. 6 levelled the score at 10-10. She saved two more match points before completing the comeback with an 11-7, 13-15, 11-1, 11-9, 6-11, 9-11, 14-12 victory.

Those powers of recovery were again in evidence in the final against compatriot Zhou Yihan.

Feng trailed after the first and third games but prevailed 9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 13-11.

On her semi-final rally, she said: "I told myself, 'Tianwei you haven't lost, you still have a chance of winning a point', so I didn't give up."

This was the 30-year-old's third Games singles title after her wins in 2009 and 2011 and it was surely the sweetest. She had been the favourite at the 2015 Singapore Games but was knocked out of the group stage after a shock loss to Suthasini, then 21 and ranked 107th in the world - 103 places below the Singapore star.

The Thai's victory also ended a sequence of 10 straight singles gold medals by Singaporean women.

Feng, who was dropped by the Singapore Table Tennis Association last October and now works with her own ad hoc team of coaches and sparring partners, said she had become a better paddler over the past two years because of that surprise defeat.

In their rematch in Kuala Lumpur, she cruised to a 3-1 lead but the world No. 57 refused to buckle, winning the next two games before coming close to a second straight final appearance.

Feng said: "These two years have been a long wait for me, but it was a worthwhile wait. It's demanded me to constantly challenge myself so I feel very happy. This gold medal has a lot of significance to me."

Last night's men's final was another all-Singaporean clash. Defending champion Gao Ning, who will retire after next year's Asian Games, retained his crown after a 5-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-5, 11-6 victory over team-mate Clarence Chew.

Singapore had won the men's and women's doubles but lost the mixed doubles final on Sunday.

The competition takes a break today before resuming tomorrow with the men's and women's team events which end on Saturday.

World No. 50 Zhou, who was making her singles debut at the biennial Games after being called up as a late replacement for the injured Yu Mengyu, was pleased to have pushed Feng close.

The 23-year-old said: "From the start, I took the lead quite often, but I got a little anxious later on and started making some mistakes.

"Le Jie did really well. I'm really happy for Le Jie."

"Le Le" - which translates to joy - is Feng's nickname, with the Singapore paddlers also calling her "older sister".

Given what she has gone through in the past year to get here, it was certainly an apt description.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Pure joy after 2 years of hurt'. Print Edition | Subscribe