SINGAPORE — As she reaches the twilight of her illustrious career, Singapore paddler Feng Tianwei is still eager to keep pace with the rest of the table tennis world, even as many of her contemporaries have already hung up their bats.
Despite the travelling challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Feng has accumulated enough ranking points over the past year to qualify for the season-ending World Table Tennis (WTT) Cup Finals, which will be held at Singapore's OCBC Arena from Saturday (4 December) to Tuesday.
Only the top 16 men's and women's singles players make the cut for this inaugural event, including both world No.1s Fan Zhendong and Chen Meng, and Feng. Having been based in Japan for much of this year, Feng is cherishing the opportunity to compete in Singapore again.
"Even before the pandemic, we didn't usually have many opportunities to take part in top-tier tournaments in Singapore. So any time I get that chance, it's always a happy occasion for me," the soft-spoken Feng told Yahoo News Singapore in Mandarin in between practice sessions at the WTT Cup Finals on Friday.
It has been 14 years since the 35-year-old first donned Singapore colours as a bright young talent capable to going against the very best of her contemporaries.
Her rise coincided with the most successful period in the history of Singapore table tennis as the women's paddlers won one silver and two bronze medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, as well as a shock triumph over mighty China at the 2010 World Team Championships in Moscow.
Feng had a hand in all three Olympic medal wins, making her the most bemedalled Singapore Olympian in history. But with all her former teammates such as Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Yu Mengyu either long retired or close to retirement, why is she continuing to put in the hard work to compete as much as possible?
"There's always one more tournament which I want to win, and I still feel eager to prove myself every day," she said.
"This past year, I've been based in Japan as there were more opportunities for competitions, but it was still not been easy to train consistently with all the pandemic uncertainties. So to see my sacrifices paying off by being able to qualify for this tournament, it makes it worthwhile to continue playing."
Feng is currently ranked 12th in the working rankings, and was drawn to face South Korea's world No.15 Jeon Ji-hee in the WTT Cup Finals round of 16 on Saturday evening. If she advances to the quarter-finals, she will be in a tough battle against either world No.1 Chen or Japanese world No.9 Kasumi Ishikawa.
Up to 900 fans will be permitted to attend each session of the WTT Cup Finals, in accordance with prevailing safe management measures. They must either be fully vaccinated or undertake pre-even testing prior to attending.
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore