by Suhaile Md
SO WHAT if she was axed from the national team training programme six months back? Feng Tianwei’s still got it. Singapore’s top table tennis star won the 2017 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) title on Sunday (Apr 23).
It’s her first major title since she was booted out of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) last October. Apparently, the 30-year-old didn’t fit into its rejuvenation plans, so STTA would not support her training. It would however support her participation in the ITTF world circuit. Though it’s not clear what exactly this support entails. As for major meets like the Olympics and the Asian Games, she will face the same qualifying criteria as any other STTA athlete. The three-time Olympic medallist had failed to make it past the Olympic quarter-finals in Rio 2016.
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There was much drama surrounding Feng’s ouster (links below). But she was quick to pick herself up and form a team to support her training. She has been busy competing since.
Barely over a month after the split, Feng faced world No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion, Ding Ning in a China Table Tennis Super League match on Dec 6. The bout was a nail-biter, but Feng prevailed, beating the world champion by just one set. The score: 3:2.
While the win gave her a much needed confidence boost, constant travel across China for league matches took a toll. A few days later at the ITTF Doha Open, Feng lost 3:4 to Miu Hirano of Japan in the round of 16. That’s one step short of the quarter finals. It was the last event of the year.
The loss of STTA’s resources clearly had an impact. “This is the first competition I’m going to where I’m handling every aspect of competing by myself,” said Feng after her loss to Japan, reported The Straits Times (Dec 10).
Lucky for her, she still qualified for the Sports Excellence Scholarship which provides her with a monthly stipend of up to $8,000 amongst other benefits like medical support. The scholarship is awarded by the High Performance Sports (HPS) Steering Committee, not STTA. HPS is chaired by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu. Feng successfully renewed the scholarship in March this year.
Feng’s 2017 season started on a sour note. She was absent from the STTA awards ceremony in mid-February although she was the top table tennis performer in Singapore last year. She had come in third for both the World Cup and Asian Cup in 2016. The best player award was not given out that night.
According to ST, when asked about Feng’s absence, STTA president Ellen Lee said: “She is no longer at the STTA… all this while, we have been recognising Feng Tianwei for what she has done and we are grateful… I think it’s about time that we also let the recognition be given and spread on to other players as well.”
February was a dismal month for her. For the ITTF Qatar Open, she was defeated by German Solja Petrissa, who ranked 13th in the world, by two sets. Feng was ranked sixth at that time.
There was one bright spot. On Feb 23, Feng met the qualifying criteria for the Asian Table Tennis Championship in April, so STTA took her in as part of its Singapore contingent. It was the first time she played with the STTA since their October split. On April 14 though, she lost to China’s Chen Meng at the quarter-final stage in three straight sets.
Despite the loss, Feng was ranked third in the world by ITTF in March and April, up from sixth when she parted ways with STTA. The next best Singaporean, ranked 25th in the world, is Zeng Jian. Since Feng is no longer in the STTA, this makes 20-year-old Zeng STTA’s best player.
Feng solidified her hold on the global rankings with her ITTF Korea Open win on Sunday (Apr 23). After her win, she said: “At the moment I don’t practise with the national team in Singapore although I live there. I am practising in different clubs and with different private sparring partners. Sometimes I even go to China for training.”
The three highest ITTF ranked players will represent Singapore in the SEA games team events this August, said STTA technical director Loy Soo Han in response to queries from The New Paper in January.
So it really doesn’t matter whether Feng is part of STTA or not as far as the glory of Singapore is concerned. Feng could still play for the national team if she maintains her ranking. If she wins medals, Singapore’s best paddler would have done so with little to no resources spent on her by STTA. Very much like Joseph Schooling.
Read more on last October’s controversy here:
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