Feng faces fight from team-mates for Rio spot

Feng Tianwei might have endured an inconsistent start to 2016, one marred by early exits from tournaments and a disappointing World Team Table Tennis Championships outing in Shah Alam, where the women finished without a medal for the first time since 2006.

But the world No. 7 is determined to put her woes behind her as she bids to qualify for her third straight Olympics at the ongoing Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Hong Kong.

Feng's showing at last month's world team championships bodes well. She carried her team ably and lost only once in 12 matches despite nursing a shoulder injury.

Reflecting on the tournament, Feng, 29, said: "The biggest lesson I got from the world championships was to never give up.

"I've recovered well from my injuries. For me, the Olympics is a special event. The competition will be tough but I have prepared well and will give it everything."

The qualifying tournament is divided into two stages - regional, then continental-wide.

The men's and women's champions of each regional tournament - of which there are five - will qualify for Rio. For the continental-wide segment, six men's and women's singles spots are up for grabs.

If the Singapore players fail to secure a spot in Hong Kong, they can still qualify for Rio by being among the top 22 players in the International Table Tennis Federation's Olympic singles ranking.

Each National Olympic Committee (NOC) can field a maximum of two players in the singles events. NOCs with two qualified singles athletes will qualify for the team event.

Feng received a bye into the quarter-finals and will face Thailand's Nanthana Komwong today. A win could pit her against reigning SEA Games champion, Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut, the world No. 59 who shocked Feng 3-1 en route to winning gold in Singapore last year.

But according to women's head coach Chen Zhibin, Feng's biggest challengers will likely be team-mates Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan. Chen added: "For this tournament, Tianwei and Mengyu have worked on receiving serves and controlling the first three rallies. Physically they should be sound as we've been working on that."

The Republic's male paddlers will also be favourites to clinch the South-east Asian berth.

Singapore's top-ranked male player Gao Ning (world No. 27), has regained both his fitness and confidence, having recovered from an ankle injury that cut short his involvement in Shah Alam.

Gao will face Thailand's Supanut Wisutmaythangkoon. He said: "I can't really say who will be my strongest opponent. Everyone will be giving their all because there is a lot at stake, but I've recovered well and am very confident."

In yesterday's round-of-16 matches, Lin beat Indonesia's Ceria Nilasari Jusma 4-1 (11-9, 5-11, 11-3, 11-7, 11-8) and will face Zhou. Yu will play Thailand's Orawan Paranang.

In the men's matches, Chen Feng swept aside Malaysia's Leong Chee Feng 4-0 (11-3, 11-3, 11-6, 11-3), while Yang Zi beat the Philippines' Jann Mari Nayre 4-0 (11-9, 11-3, 11-7, 13-11).

Today, Chen will play Thailand's Padasak Tanviriyavechakul, Yang will take on Indonesia's Ficky Santoso while Li Hu, Singapore's other male paddler, will play Indonesia's Agus Pramono.

This article was first published on April 14, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.