Table tennis: Feng upbeat ahead of Rio Games despite upset

Feng Tianwei hits a return against Cheng I-Ching during the women's singles quarter-final table tennis match at the ITTF World Tour Japan Open table tennis tournament PHOTO: AFP

When Feng Tianwei captured the Slovenia Open two weeks ago, hopes were raised that Singapore's star paddler was on her way to regaining her best form.

After all, the victory - albeit in a lower-tier event - ended her two-year title drought on the International Table Tennis Federation professional circuit.

But that optimism took a hit yesterday when the world No. 6 was shocked 4-2 (11-9, 11-7, 9-11, 7-11, 11-3, 12-10) by Chinese Taipei's Cheng I-ching in the Japan Open quarter-finals.

Feng, 29, had never lost to Cheng - ranked nine places below the 2012 Olympic singles bronze medallist - in three previous encounters.

She was not the only Singaporean to lose in Tokyo yesterday. The doubles pair of Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan, who will make their Olympic debuts in August, were beaten 3-1 (6-11, 11-2, 11-3, 11-8) by Chinese top seeds Liu Shiwen and Zhu Yuling in the semi-finals.

Cheng bagged the first two games before Feng reeled her in over the next two to level the scores at 2-2.

But Cheng ran away with the fifth game, opening up an 8-0 lead before winning it 11-3.

Despite an evenly contested last game that went down to the wire, Cheng held her nerve to seal a maiden victory over the tournament's sixth seed.

The Taiwanese will now take on world No. 2 Ding Ning of China in one semi-final, while world No. 1 Liu will face world No. 3 Zhu in the other match.

Cheng, seeded 14th, was ecstatic with her triumph.

The 24-year-old told the ITTF website: "All I can say is wow - amazing. I can't believe it, the match was just perfect - my biggest win. I played so well, everything went like a dream. I am so happy."

On her loss, which comes barely two months before the Olympics, Feng told The Sunday Times: "I made more mistakes than usual. However, I'm slowly gaining back the feel for the Olympics and I have faith that I can overcome all the obstacles."

As Singapore's most successful Olympian with three medals (one team silver in 2008 and one team and singles bronze in 2012), the pressure is on Feng to deliver again at the Summer Games.

Her preparations for Rio will continue with next week's tournament in Incheon. She added: "The Korean Open will be our last stop before the Olympics. After that, we will stay on for centralised training followed by another training stint in New York before going to Rio."

Women's national team coach Chen Zhibin applauded Feng's efforts at the Japan Open.

He said: "She finished in the top eight and it's a good finish. Today's opponent (Cheng) played well.

"Tianwei also just won the Slovenia singles title. We will continue to train hard to improve and focus on how our potential Olympic opponents will play as well."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline Table tennis: Feng upbeat ahead of Rio Games despite upset. Subscribe