China reasserts authority at Asian Table Tennis Championships
Fan Zhendong lifts the trophy after winning the men's singles title at the ITTF Asian Championships in Wuxi on April 16. [Photo/Xinhua]
Reports of the death of Chinese table tennis have been greatly exaggerated, or so it seemed on the final day of the ITTF Asian Championships in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, on April 16, as China's ping-pong stars crushed any opponents unfortunate enough to cross their path.
Team China had been taken down a peg or two during the first few days of play at the Wuxi Sports Center as a string of top players suffered shock losses to Korean and Japanese opponents, including world number ones Ma Long and Ding Ning.
And after 17-year-old Japanese wunderkind Miu Hirano stormed to an unexpected triumph in the women's singles on Saturday, there remained the possibility as play started on Sunday that China may lose out on both the men's and women's singles titles for the first time since 1974.
But China's paddlers seemed determined to put their upstart challengers in their place, sweeping to gold in the two remaining events—the men's singles and women's doubles—in superb style.
The action got started with the women's doubles semifinals, which by a twist of fate had served up two China-Japan clashes.
The emergence of an exciting young Japanese team had been the story of the tournament so far, and China's first pair of semifinalists—Zhu Yuling and Chen Meng—both had first-hand experience of the potential of Japan's rising stars, as both had lost to Miu in the singles.
However, Chen and Zhu appeared determined to seize their shot at redemption, unleashing a relentless barrage of attacking shots on their Japanese rivals Hitomi Sato and Honoka Hashimoto.
After winning a tight first game 11-9, Chen and Zhu stepped it up a gear in the second, blasting away their opponents to take the game with a comfortable 11-5 score line.
Sato and Hashimoto's tricky serves caused some problems for the Chinese pair at the start of the third game, but Sato and Hashimoto simply could not cope with the sheer ferocity of the Chinese pair's play, often finding themselves forced back almost into the press box as Zhu and Chen saw out the match with little fuss (11-9, 11-5, 11-8).
China also prevailed in straight games in the second semifinal, as Wang Manyu and Chen Ke outclassed Hina Hayata and Mima Ito.
The Chinese pair comfortably closed out the first game 11-7 and raced into a 5-1 lead at the start of the second, but Ito and Hayata showed great character and lightning hand speed to pull the game back to 9-8.
The game had turned into a thrilling toe-to-toe brawl as the four players traded rapid-fire shots, but then Chen stepped up in spectacular fashion to break the deadlock.
After an incredible five-smash shootout Chen pulled out a barely believable forehand at full stretch to win China a precious 10-9 lead, and another huge hit allowed China to take the second game 11-9.
Ito and Hayata battled bravely on, but a series of errors undermined their challenge, allowing Chen and Wang to claim the match (11-7, 11-9, 11-8) and set up an all-China final, which Chen and Zhu went on to win in four games (11-8, 6-11, 11-7, 11-9).
A similar story unfolded in the men's singles, as world number two Fan Zhendong quickly extinguished any thoughts of another upset by crushing his Korean opponent Jeong Sangeun 3-0.
Despite not having competed internationally for more than a year and arriving at the championships without a world ranking, Jeong represented a dangerous opponent for the 20-year-old defending champion.
The unseeded Korean's run to the final had been the stuff of fairytales, dumping table tennis legend Ma Long out of the competition in the third round before pulling off a barely believable comeback in the semifinal against fifth seed Koki Niwa, bludgeoning his way back from 2-0 down to win an epic final game 13-11.