SINGAPORE - At 31, Yu Mengyu hinted on Wednesday (June 23) that this could be her last Olympic outing as a player and vowed to push herself to her limits at the Tokyo Games.
She is looking to improve on her Rio 2016 showing where she finished fourth with the women's team and made the women's singles quarter-finals.
At a virtual press conference organised by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), the world No. 47 said: "I don't want to have any regrets that I haven't given it my all. The pandemic has brought about great uncertainty and the biggest challenge has been to motivate myself, to will myself back from injury countless times, and to stay positive.
"Doing well and beating higher-ranked opponents (at the WTT Contender Doha) has given me confidence that I am able to compete against top players, and I hope it is also a morale booster to the team."
The past 18 months has been mixed for her. She returned to competitive action after a year's hiatus due to the pandemic and beat world No. 11 Miu Hirano en route to reaching the semi-finals at the WTT Contender Doha event in March.
A week later though, her chronic back injury flared up and she had to withdraw from the next tournament. At the airport, Yu even had to be escorted on a wheelchair to board her flight home.
On her potential swansong, she said: "This is something I will need to think of after Tokyo. If the national team still need me, I will give it my all, but I'm also considering contributing in other roles."
Along with teammates Clarence Chew and Lin Ye, Yu will leave for Shimada, Japan on Sunday for acclimatisation training until July 17 before they check in for the Games which open on July 23. They will be joined by world No. 9 Feng Tianwei, who has been based in Japan since Dec 2019, and will be tested for Covid-19 everyday.
In Shimada, the STTA has sourced for 14 Japanese sparring partners - southpaws and right-handers with various attacking and defensive styles. This follows from their centralised training in Singapore where they brought in five Chinese players in May to help them prepare for the Olympics.
National women's coach Hao Anlin shared that the plan for the team event is to start Feng and Yu for the singles segment, with the latter partnering Lin for the doubles. He also revealed the internal target is to regain a medal they last won at London 2012, "the brighter the colour the better".
He said: "We have experience on our side with Tianwei and Mengyu, and a fast-improving Lin Ye is raring to go. With the team event format changed to start with doubles as the first match, we will have to make adjustments and prepare accordingly to build chemistry.
"Playing in both the singles and doubles matches, we understand the toll this will take on Mengyu and we will do our best to manage the fitness, injury risk and recovery aspects."
World No. 60 Lin added: "To be able to play at Tokyo 2020 is already not easy due to the many challenges the pandemic has thrown up. Like everyone else, we try to prepare to the best of our ability despite the lack of international competitions.
"Hopefully through the training matches with our sparring partners in Japan, we can rediscover the competition rhythm and feel, and do well enough at the Olympics to win a medal."
Meanwhile, national men's coach Gao Ning, who has played at three Olympics for Singapore and won numerous medals at the Asian, Commonwealth and SEA Games, felt it was also important to have the right mindset to do well at Tokyo 2020.
He said: "At major Games, it is important to get in the zone as quickly as possible. In terms of gameplay, we will work on Clarence's forehand and footwork. But I also told him to treat this as a regular competition and not to create unnecessary stress and nerves thinking about it as the Olympics."
World No. 186 Chew acknowledged the advice and shared that his new pre-match routine is to eat a mint candy to clear his mind, and that he would also give his hair a new colour for good luck.
Urging the nation to back the paddlers and the rest of the Singapore contingent, STTA president Ellen Lee said: "We believe our women's team will come under intense spotlight and expectations of them are high.
"Despite the challenges ahead in facing the likes of opponents from China, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, our players will go all out to face them head-on.
"Tianwei and Mengyu will put their previous Olympics experience to their advantage in Tokyo, while our debutants Clarence and Lin Ye have made significant progress in the last few months, and I believe they will do us proud in Tokyo."