Table tennis: Feng misses out on WTT Star Contender crown after 4-1 loss to Japan's Ito

SINGAPORE – Feng Tianwei’s bid for a first tour title in almost four years ended in defeat on Saturday (March 13), as the 34-year-old paddler lost 4-1 (10-12, 12-10, 11-7, 11-8, 11-6) to Japan’s world No. 2 Mima Ito in the final of the WTT Star Contender Doha.

Playing in her first women’s singles final since the 2017 Korea Open, world No. 12 Feng started strongly at the Lusail Sports Arena, saving a game point to clinch the first game against her 20-year-old rival.

Feng had earlier dispatched up-and-coming player Hina Hayata in the quarterfinals and had hoped to claim another Japanese scalp. But Ito proved too strong for the Singaporean, bouncing back to win the next four games and claim a second consecutive title after last week’s WTT Contender Doha to add to her bronze medals from last year’s Women’s World Cup and International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Finals.

Acknowledging that she is still playing catch-up with the top-ranked paddlers, Feng said: “I was able to see the gap with Ito in today’s match so we’ll have to get back to training after this.

“But I felt like I played decently and handled certain parts of the game well. The first few games were lost when the score was very close; I didn’t play very well during crucial points and could’ve taken some chances better.”

Despite the defeat, there were still plenty of positives for Feng to take away from the US$400,000 (S$538,000) event as she gears up for the July 23-Aug 8 Olympics.

Even in the absence of the Chinese players, who withdrew from both events in Doha over Covid-19 concerns, Feng, who won a silver and two bronzes at the Olympics, was able to pit herself against tough opponents from countries like Japan.

With fewer tournaments to compete in owing to the pandemic, this week’s competition had helped in her preparations for her fourth outing at the Olympic Games.

Feng, who will play in two more World Table Tennis tournaments in China in May before the Tokyo Olympics, said: “It has helped me identify areas to train on. My performance in the second half of this tournament was better than it was in the first half.

“In terms of technical, tactical and psychological aspects, I was able to gain quite a bit of experience. I’ve also managed to gradually adapt to new techniques in this tournament.”

The WTT Star Contender Doha saw Tomokazu Harimoto clinching the double for Japan as the world No. 5 won the men’s singles title after beating Germany’s Ruwen Filus 4-2 (11-9, 11-9, 12-14, 11-5, 7-11, 11-8).

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After struggling with her form, Feng’s impressive run in the WTT Star Contender Doha tournament has offered a glimpse of what the former world No. 2 is still capable of.

With just four months till the Olympics, this could be the boost that the 34-year-old needs after suffering three first round exits in her previous three competitions.

A clash with an in-form Ito, who only dropped two games before the final, was never going to be easy as the Japanese also boasted a 6-2 lead over Feng in their previous encounters before the WTT event, with Feng’s last victory coming at the ITTF Asian Cup in Dubai five years ago.

Japan has in recent years rolled out a team of young talents to challenge China’s dominance in the sport, and Feng -already Singapore’s most bemedalled Olympian – will have her work cut out for her if she wants to end her career with a fourth medal in Tokyo.

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