FOR the past week, the tight brace hidden under Yu Mengyu's shirt protected her from an old waist injury, but did not restrain her as she stormed into the semi-finals of the table tennis Asian Cup in Wuhan, China.
The 24-year-old was finally halted by a 9-11, 8-11, 4-11, 8-11 defeat to world No. 2 and Olympic silver medallist Ding Ning of China last Friday.
Still, the Singaporean had already defied her world No. 23 ranking by posting a top-four finish at the tournament.
She upset South Korea's world No. 19 Seok Ha Jung in the quarter-finals earlier in the day, winning 11-7, 11-9, 7-11, 8-11, 11-9, 12-10, and will play North Korean defensive specialist Ri Myong Sun today in the third-place play-off.
With the tournament serving as the Singapore team's final tune-up before next month's World Team Table Tennis Championships, Yu's breakthrough came at an opportune time.
Even more so, given that national women's team head coach Jing Junhong had long regarded Yu as a competitor who plays a more crucial role in the national team's period of transition than even world No. 7 Feng Tianwei.
Yu had been called on to step up to a key role on the women's team following the retirement of veterans Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu.
"To be able to make the last four in a tournament of this level is not easy," Jing told The Straits Times in a telephone interview from Wuhan.
"Mengyu was able to put her injury aside, play to a level that she's capable, and it was also visible that she's made some improvements technically.
"The responsibility on Mengyu's shoulders is quite heavy, so to have beaten a number of top players here will be good for her confidence."
This is Yu's best showing at the annual tournament. She finished eighth last year and was fifth in 2012.
But while Yu outdid herself at the Asian Cup, team-mate Feng's performance was more cause for concern.
Singapore's world No. 5 beat South Korea's Seok Ha Jung 11-7, 11-4, 11-13, 7-11, 11-8, 11-6 last Friday to avenge an earlier loss in the group stages, and will play Hong Kong's Lee Ho Ching for fifth place today.
But Feng lost 11-13, 9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-13 to Ding in their last-eight encounter earlier, her 13th loss to the Chinese in 15 meetings.
She was also forced to fight for a last-eight place, after notching a lone victory in three group stage matches on Thursday.
"It's better for us to spot any issues now while we still have time to work on them," said Jing, referring to Feng.
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