Singapore's top-ranked female paddler Feng Tianwei was pipped to the post in the inaugural T2 Asia Pacific Table Tennis League (T2Apac) women's championship final last night.
At the T2Cavern at Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Baru, Romania's world No. 57 Bernadette Szocs beat world No. 11 Feng 3-2 (9-11, 11-10, 11-9, 4-11, 5-3).
Feng told The Straits Times after her narrow and surprise loss: "I didn't play as well as I did in the semi-finals (she beat China's former world junior champion Shi Xunyao 3-1).
"Perhaps I wanted to win too badly and made too many errors, especially while receiving serves.
"But overall, I'm pleased with how I have played in this league."
The T2Apac runs on a time-based format and, instead of best-of-five or first-to-seven matches, paddlers need to rack up as many game wins as possible in a fixed period of 24 minutes. If one game ends on or after 22 minutes, a "kill zone" game (first to five points) will be played.
This year's inaugural season features 24 of the world's top players, who are split into four teams of six (three men and three women).
They played singles matches over seven sessions a season, which slotted into breaks in the International Table Tennis Federation calendar.
The 22-year-old Szocs earned US$40,000 (S$54,000) for her win, while Feng, 31, had to make do with a US$20,000 prize.
Szocs hailed her victory as the "most important moment" in her fledgling career. The triumph caps a fairy-tale run for the paddler, the last name on the entry list.
She had also made a sensational comeback from 2-4 down to beat China's Liu Fei 5-4 in the semi-finals on Thursday.
She said: "I'm really happy, I cannot believe this. I want to thank my father, my psychologist and everyone who has been here for me in this most important moment.
"With the prize money, I will buy dinner for my team and, after that, I'm going for a holiday."
Feng will have no such luxury as the three-time Olympic medallist will play in the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Astana, Kazakhstan from next Thursday to Sunday.
She is still Singapore's only individual champion in the competition after winning in 2010, but has since slipped out of the world's top 10. "It won't be easy, and I will take it one step at a time, which means getting into the quarter-finals first," said Feng. "The world's best players will be there and I'm hoping to get the wins required to bounce back into the top 10."