ST Athlete of the Year: Yu Mengyu overcomes injuries and unfamiliarity with new rules to win Asiad bronze

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Find out more about table tennis player Yu Mengyu's love for skincare and shopping, and what was her toughest moment in 2018.

SINGAPORE - The crowning moment of her singles career was not even supposed to happen last year.

Twice, in 2014 and 2016, Singapore paddler Yu Mengyu thought about throwing in the towel after suffering debilitating spinal and shoulder injuries respectively.

She told The Straits Times: "I couldn't even get out of bed for a month in 2014 because of the back injury. I felt like giving up, but I really wanted to play in the Olympics at least once, so I hung on."

She made it through Rio 2016 with injections and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatment and finally went for shoulder injury on a labrum that had been completely torn for more than a year.

She said: "When I returned to the table, they had changed the balls and ranking system, and it felt as though table tennis had moved on and left me behind."

But her love for the sport and determination carried her through those depressing times and the 29-year-old's perseverance was rewarded at last year's Asian Games.

Her joint bronze medal behind two Chinese, Chen Meng and Wang Manyu, was a surprise - considering Yu was viewed as more of a doubles and team player who was perennially in the shadows of compatriot Feng Tianwei.

Yu, seeded 14th, upset sixth seed Doo Hoi Kem, a Hong Kong player she had not beaten in three previous meetings, in the round of 16.

She then shocked Taiwanese third seed Cheng I-ching in the quarter-finals to secure a medal and took a game off Wang before losing the semi-final.

The way she fended off personal demons to come back from potentially career-ending injuries earned her a nomination for The Straits Times Athlete of the Year award.

"After a few months out, I used a year to play international tournaments and the results were not ideal and I was really depressed," said Yu, who preferred drawing to ping pong as a child. "I couldn't even see the ball as it whizzed past me.

"But it could be that I have matured with age or it could be the surgery that made me appreciate every minute of competition. So I'm playing with more joy and calmness.

"The 2018 Asian Games was the first and last Asian Games that I would play.

"So I told myself before playing tough opponents or those whom I have a very low win rate against that I want to outdo myself and not have any regrets. And I did it."

Singapore women's head coach Hao Anlin hailed Yu's ability to upset the odds in a world full of emerging talents who have raised the pace and energy levels of the sport.

He said: "Despite never being 100 per cent fit - we can only manage the injuries and not fully cure them - it is admirable and inspirational how Mengyu has been able to achieve a breakthrough in terms of technique and mentality and compete with other world-class players.

"The competition is only going to be tougher, but we hope her spirit and experience can help her continue to be a key player for Singapore at least until the next Olympics."

Despite admitting to being more introverted than imposing, Yu was sure what would make a fairy-tale ending to her roller-coaster career.

The world No. 40 said: "I still don't have an Olympic medal, and that's my goal for now."

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