Yijun Feng Interview

By Rahul Acharya | July 12, 2016, 12 a.m. (ET)

Yijun (Tom) Feng (GA, USA)

19 year-old Yijun (Tom) Feng has recently created a buzz in the table tennis community. From beating Africa's #1 and world top 50 player Aruna Quadri at the 2015 Joola Teams tournament, winning the Men's Singles title at the 2015 U.S. Nationals, qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, and to most recently, winning the 2016 North American Cup, Yijun leaves everyone wondering as to what is yet to come.

Born in Nanjing, China, Yijun moved to the U.S. at the age of 8 to make Texas his new home. After calling the lone star state his home for many years, Yijun moved to Georgia during his sophomore year of high school. While the transition wasn't easy as far as school and making new friends, it definitely helped his game. Tom began training at the Atlanta International Table Tennis Academy. Fast forward two years and Yijun is now ready to represent the USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

I had the opportunity to ask Yijun a few questions. I hope you enjoy getting to know him!

Quick facts about Yijun:
Highest USATT rating 2732
2016 U.S. Olympic Team Member
2016 U.S. Men's National and World Team Member
2016 North America Cup Champion
2015 U.S. Men's Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles Champion
2015 U.S. Men's Under 21 Champion

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Yijun (Tom) Feng, 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Member
Photo: ITTF
With Yijun Feng at 2016 U.S. National Championship

1. The past couple of months have been spectacular for you! How does it feel? 
It feels great! Actually, I became 2500 level at the age of 15, but I stayed there for almost 3 years. It was hard to compete in many big tournaments during the high school years. However, lately, I started participating in more tournaments and became somewhat competition tough. Also, beating Aruna Quadri at the 2015 North American Teams tournament really helped boost my confidence. I was able to carry this confidence into Nationals and the Olympic trials.

2. I'm sure you're preparing hard for the upcoming Olympic Games. Is there still something remaining on your practice checklist prior to Rio, or have you done everything that you had planned to do?
With only two months left, there isn't much I can do to improve skills. However, I will continue to follow a rigorous practice and training schedule to keep my game sharp for Rio.

3. Who do you have the best chemistry with on the U.S. Olympic Team?  
I would have to say Timothy Wang from the Men's team, and Jiaqi Zheng from the Women's team.

4. Between the six 2016 Olympic team members, in your opinion who is the:
The clown? Timothy Wang
The thinker? Kanak Jha and I
The spirit king or queen? Myself
The most intense? Kanak Jha and I
The biggest optimist? All of us
The mentally toughest? Not certain, but probably Timothy because he is the oldest

5. Let's go back to when it all began ... Tell us about how you started with table tennis. 
I started playing when I was six years old. I don't come from a family of professionals, but my dad's company in China had a table. Whenever I went to visit, I played. That's how I started. I really liked it, and about six months later, I started formal training. 

6. What equipment do you currently use?
Blade: Stiga Rosewood 7-ply
Forehand rubber: DHS Hurricane 3 Provincial
Backhand rubber: Butterfly Tenergy 64

7. Have you always been a penhold player? Do you think it is an asset, or a liability, or just as good or bad as any other grip?
I started off as a shakehands player. About six months later, I joined the Nanjing city team. The team coach had me switch to penhold because each team had to have a pips player and a penhold player. 

From my perspective, penhold is harder to play as compared to shakehands. The penhold grip makes it harder to generate power, requires a stronger forehand since the backhand is limited, and requires better footwork. However, I don't think it has limited me because I trained in China from the very beginning as a penhold player. Also, I use the reverse pendulum variation and not the traditional penhold grip, so it works well for me. 

8. I'm sure Rio is your top priority right now, but once it is behind you, what are your long-term goals with regards to table tennis?
I would like to maintain my level, and would someday like to make it to the world top 100. 

9. Do you have a "go-to" strategy to keep yourself calm at a critical point in a game? 
Honestly, I don't get very nervous. If it is 9-9 and my opponent has the serve, I don't think about winning or losing. I usually try to think about how to receive the serve and tactics. I would say that if a player is confident in his skills, there is no reason to be nervous.

10. Who is your favorite international table tennis player? Why?
I really like Ma Long because he is really nice. I also admire his consistency. I also like Zhang Jike's backhand, and I like how Xu Xin sets up his first three shots. 

11. If you could go back in time and get a "do-over" for any one match from any tournament that you have ever played, which one would that be? Why? 
At the 2007 Nationals, I lost to Charles Deng in the Under 10 finals. I was the better player and should not have lost. However, I didn't prepare well. Perhaps I was a bit over confident.

12. Imagine that you are fighting for the gold at the upcoming Olympics Games. If you could get anyone in the world, from the past or the present, to coach you for that match, who would it be? Why? 
Jin Yixiong. He speaks good Chinese :) He knows me, he knows how I think, and I trust him. Trust is most important in a player-coach relationship.

13. I believe that you are starting college in the fall. Are you concerned about not being able to play as much? Are you going to stay as committed to the sport as you are right now?
I am concerned, but I have to deal with it. Since I have a good foundation, I'm going to focus on other aspects of the game such as serve, tactics, etc.

14. What you like to do when you are not playing table tennis?
I like to play video games such as League of Legends and Overwatch. Other than that, I also like to hang out with friends.

15. Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank my parents for bringing me to the U.S., and for supporting my table tennis career. Their move to the U.S. was not easy. They didn't speak the language and didn't have any friends here. But, they made it work for me.

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Yijun, thanks for your time, and good luck to you and Team USA at the upcoming Olympic Games! Go Team USA!