The question was simple – how do you think you fared in your matches today?
Singapore paddler Yu Mengyu, who was calm during a television interview just moments earlier, started to speak, but turned away from the Singapore journalists present in the mixed zone and buried her face into a towel.
A short while later, she turned back, red-eyed and voice cracking, and said: “I thought I played rather well today, but I played the first match a little too quickly.
“It was quite a pity (that we lost). Tianwei was injured and I couldn’t help her get even a point.
“I feel rather guilty.”
The women’s national team were favourites against North Korea in the World Team Table Tennis Championships quarter-final tie yesterday – the Republic beat the same opponents 3-0 at the 2012 world team championships, while Yu and world No. 8 Feng Tianwei both had better head-to-head records against the North Koreans.
But it was anything but easy for the team, as Feng, 29, struggled with an injured shoulder and barely overcame Kim Song I 3-2 (12-14, 9-11, 14-12, 12-10, 11-8) in the first match to give Singapore the lead.
Yu, 26, had gradually found her feet again against defensive specialists during this tournament, but was poor in her 3-0 (11-9-, 11-9, 11-4) defeat by Ri Myong Sun in the second match.
World No. 349 Yee Herng Hwee was predictably whitewashed 3-0 (11-1, 11-6, 11-6) by North Korea’s world No. 70 Ri Mi Gyong in the third singles, as Singapore trailed 2-1.
Feng gave the Republic a lifeline when she beat Ri 3-1 (11-5, 5-11, 11-9, 12-10) in the fourth match, setting up teammate Yu for the decider.
World No. 34 Yu dropped the first game 11-5 against Kim, but bounced back to win the next two games 11-8, 11-3.
But Kim, a chopper, switched to an attacking mode late in the fourth game and the entire fifth game, and Yu was slow to adapt to the change.
The Singaporean lost the last two games 11-6, 11-7 to concede the match, as well as the tie.
The result meant that Feng and Co. finished joint-fifth – the first time since the 2006 edition of the biennial world team championships that the Republic’s women paddlers have failed to win a medal.
Feng said: “Our target was top eight. Of course we wanted to win a medal, but we tried our best, given that our preparation before the tournament wasn’t ideal and our form wasn’t good.
“But I think now we are heading down the right path.”
Women’s national coach Chen Zhibin said the paddlers would need to work on their mental training, as well as their strength and conditioning, ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.
But the former Holland coach was especially heartened by the revival of Feng’s form, as well as her fighting spirit.
This is especially crucial with the Asian Olympic qualifiers coming up in Hong Kong next month.
Chen said: “She was 3-8 down in a game against Ukraine, and won it; she was 7-10 down against (Holland’s) Li Jie, and won it too.
“She was trailing 7-10 in two consecutive games against Kim today, and she won it again. So I am very satisfied with her performance in this tournament, especially since she’s carrying injuries here.
“Her confidence is back and, when she recovers, her training form and competition form will be better.”
This article was first published on March 5, 2016.
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