SINGAPORE – As she approaches the twilight of playing career, Singapore’s world No. 12 Feng Tianwei still finds herself placed among the best in the sport, but the 34-year-old has had to seek new ways to stave off a new wave of talents.
Her ability to adapt was enough for her to see out a 3-2 (12-10, 12-14, 11-5, 7-11, 11-6) win over Japan’s world No. 26 Hina Hayata at the WTT Star Contender Doha quarter-finals on Thursday (March 11), but the victory over the 20-year-old was a hard-fought one.
Hayata, who is one of the sport’s in-form players, finished runner-up at last week’s WTT Contender Doha after losing 4-2 to compatriot Mima Ito.
Hayata and world No. 2 Ito, also 20, are among Japan’s promising crop of young players who have made their mark on the global stage.
Others include 20-year-old Miu Hirano (world No. 11) and 23-year-old Hitomi Sato (No. 17).
On the latest crop of top Japanese players, Feng, 34, said: “It’s not easy to keep up with the pace and quality of the ball against this new generation of young players.
“Players from different generations have different traits.
“The Japanese players play aggressively and I’m slowly adapting to it and thinking of new ways of playing, skills and tactics.”
After capturing the first game, Feng, a three-time Olympic medallist, endured a tough second game against Hayata at the Lusail Multipurpose Hall, where she eventually lost despite saving two game points.
Feng and Hayata took a game each after that, before the former booked her place in Friday’s semi-final of the US$400,000 (S$536,000) event.
She will come up against Romania’s world No. 34 Elizabeta Samara, who also needed a five-game thriller to overcome South Korean Kim Ha-yeong 15-13, 7-11, 6-11, 11-8, 14-12.
Her win on Thursday saw her secure her first semi-final appearance on tour since the 2019 ITTF Women’s World Cup in Chengdu, China, where she won a bronze medal after beating American Lily Zhang in the third-place play-off.
Feng revealed she is now playing her best table tennis since that October 2019 tournament, after suffering three straight opening losses.
“I’m more patient. Previously my mentality wasn’t too good, I was overly anxious to produce results quickly in matches, which didn’t work out too well,” she said.
“Now I’m gradually getting that competition feeling, thinking of ways to transfer what I do in training during matches.”
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