Feng Tianwei and fellow China-born teammates blame “bigger balls” and fatigue for failing to win Asian Games medal for the first time in 20 years

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For the first time since 1988, the Singapore women’s team failed to win a medal at the Asian Games.

Naturalised Singaporean Feng Tianwei and her fellow China-born teammates blamed fatigue and struggles with the bigger tennis balls that were used for their 3-1 defeat at the quarter-finals, which broke a two-decade long streak of winning major medals at the Asian Games.

Feng Tianwei said that the fact that the Singapore had to play two games – against Vietnam and Malaysia – before the quarter-finals drained her strength. She told reporters: “The South Koreans were very aggressive today and I could feel the strain and fatigue, especially in my thigh, which affected my performance.”

Coach Hao Anlin also said that his team have not adapted to the bigger plastic balls that are now used, as well as other teams have adapted. This is despite the fact that the switch to the bigger balls came four years ago, in 2014.

Hao told reporters: “This has neutralised some of the strengths and advantages our players once had. We not only have to adapt, but we also need to improve on our fitness and technique, and come up with different playing styles to combat these changes and challenges.”

This latest Asian Games loss comes on the back of the steady decline of the Singapore women’s team’s results in international matches.

Major medals have been out of reach for the team – which won silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships besides earning silver and bronze medals at the Asian Games since 2002 – with the team failing to make the cut for the Rio Olympics and the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Malaysia.

Earlier this year, the team lost the women’s team event at the Commonwealth Games and were knocked out of the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Sweden early on, at Round 16.

Sports writer Michael Ang wrote on social media that the Singapore team’s latest Asian Games defeat comes “despite taxpayer-funded STTA (Singapore Table Tennis Association) having spent an enormous amount of [money] recruiting players from [China] over the past two decades.”

Ang branded the team’s explanation that fatigue and the unfamiliarity with the bigger tennis balls contributed to their loss as “excuses”.