Feng's journey back to the top
Singapore paddler avenges 2015 defeat by beating Suthasini in semis before regaining title
The public will never know how recent struggles affected the fiercely private woman psychologically, but they will see the fighter in Feng Tianwei as she reclaimed the two gold medals she lost at the previous SEA Games on home soil.
On Monday, Feng had already wrested one back when she teamed up with Yu Mengyu to beat defending champions Zhou Yihan and Lin Ye 3-2 in the women's doubles final.
It was to be an even more arduous test in the women's singles semi-finals yesterday at MiTEC Hall 7, where she faced Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut, her conqueror from 2015.
World No. 6 Feng raced to a 3-1 lead, but the world No. 57 Thai staged a courageous comeback and even held three match-points in the decider.
However, Feng held her nerves to complete her revenge with a 4-3 (11-7, 13-15, 11-1, 11-9, 6-11, 9-11, 14-12) win.
She was made to work in the final as well, as world No. 50 Zhou, a late replacement for a not fully-fit Yu, took a 2-1 lead and had chances to extend or at least stay in front in the next two games.
But Feng, who said this medal "carries a lot of significance", clawed her way back to 3-2 and while Zhou bravely saved three match-points in the sixth game, it was the more experienced paddler who triumphed 4-2 (9-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 13-11).
"In the semi-final, I just told myself, 'Feng Tianwei, you haven't lost, you still have a chance, don't give up, win one point at a time'," said the 30-year-old, who also won this event in 2009 and 2011.
"My mentality was: She has the gold medal, I must snatch it back. So I didn't panic or give up even when I was trailing.
"I must also thank Zhou Yihan for her resilient fight which gave me a lot of problems but also made for an exciting final.
"She has improved a lot and there is no big difference in points between us in every game, so every point was intense."
What a difference these past two years had made.
FENG AXED FROM STTA
In 2015, Feng had gone from Olympic women's singles bronze medallist at London 2012 to losing to then-world No. 107 Suthasini in the women's singles group stages in Singapore.
Paired with Yu, she also lost the women's doubles to compatriots Zhou and Lin.
Last year, Feng returned from Rio 2016 empty-handed. Things got worse for the Harbin native when she was axed from the Singapore Table Tennis Association.
After some to-ing and fro-ing, she was still allowed to represent her adopted country, albeit without financial and technical support.
"I am very happy. After what has happened, these two victories are very meaningful, said Feng, who exchanged a cordial handshake with STTA president Ellen Lee after her win.
"These two years have been long, but it was worth the wait to win back these two golds."
Meanwhile, the men's singles final was also an all-Singapore affair which ended with victory for the more experienced player.
World No. 46 Gao Ning beat world No. 199 Clarence Chew 4-1 (5-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-5, 11-6) to pick up a fifth SEA Games men's singles gold medal and extend his unbeaten run in the event since 2007.