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» Olympics 2012
Singapore one win away from medal
Publication Date : 01-08-2012
Heroism will encounter history when Feng Tianwei marches out into her bronze-medal play-off at 9.30pm (Singapore time) today.
Singapore has never won an Olympic table tennis singles medal. But, if the country's top paddler reproduces the same form she showed in yesterday's semi-final against China's Ding Ning, that statistic could be altered.
Feng, the world No. 8, was beaten 7-11, 4-11, 11-9, 10-12, 11-6, 6-11, but there was no shame in her defeat.
Taking two games off the Chinese world No. 1 was unusual. Doing so with verve and dogged determination was extraordinary.
The game was played at blistering pace in front of a full house at the ExCel arena, as Ding zipped to a 2-0 lead. But Feng decided to make a game of it, stretching her left-handed rival across the table with some fiercely angled smashes.
The encounter lasted nearly an hour and, when it ended, the loser earned a standing ovation from those who witnessed it, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
"I have some regrets about the result, but it was always going to be difficult against Ding Ning," said the Singaporean, who has lost all six of her previous meetings with the Chinese ace. "If I had won the fourth game, things would have been different."
In today's bronze-medal match against Japan's Kasumi Ishikawa, she knows she has a chance to succeed where her seniors have failed.
At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Jing Junhong fell in the third-place play-off. Then, it was a young Li Jiawei's turn to miss out, losing the 2004 bronze-medal match to South Korean Kim Kyung Ah.
Li's luck did not change in Beijing four years later, when she finished fourth once again.
Can Feng go where no Singapore paddler has gone before?
"It will be 50-50," she said.
But women's deputy head coach Jing was more bullish. "If she plays as well as she did against Ding, my money is on her to win the bronze."
On paper, it will be an even encounter.
The Singaporean has beaten Ishikawa twice in three matches. But at 19, the Japanese is one of table tennis' brightest prodigies, and is already ranked sixth, two places higher than Feng.
A southpaw with a similar style to Feng, she is an all-rounded offensive player who wields the bat with frightening speed and accuracy.
Just ask Singapore's Wang Yuegu, who was overwhelmed 11-8, 5-11, 4-11, 8-11, 4-11 by the Japanese starlet in yesterday's quarter-final.
Feng, at least, has her tail up. Despite the crushing defeat by Ding, she showed some of her old self-belief in the quarter-finals, when she vanquished Kim, her long-time nemesis.
The Korean defensive chopper has recently had the better of Feng, but the Republic's No. 1 attacked her opponent's forehand with aggression yesterday, carving out a 13-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-6, 10-12, 12-10 win.
Singapore's interest in the men's singles ended on Monday, when Gao Ning lost to China's No.2 seed Wang Hao in the fourth round.