At his seventh and first attempt, Zhang Jike won the Men’s Singles title at the GAC GROUP World Table Tennis Championships in Rotterdam on Sunday 15th May beating colleague and defending champion, Wang Hao in the final.
Zhang Jike played for China in the Liebherr World Team Championships in May 2010 but Rotterdam was his first appearance in the Men’s Singles event. In a sensational contest, it was on his seventh match point that he secured victory, the relief evident as he fell to the floor in triumph.
The talented Zhang Jike won 12-10, 11-8, 6-11, 9-11, 11-5, 14-12
Playing Styles The forehand is time and again the dominant stroke in table tennis, 70% or event more is the percentage a player may try to effect from that side of the racket in the modern era.
However, arguably the contest between Wang Hao and Zhang Jike was the battle of the backhands; make no mistake, both players are strong from the forehand but earlier in the day, in their semi-final duels it was the backhand of each player that emerged as a winning stroke.
Returning Service Both are experts in the modern day art of receiving a short services from all points on the table with their backhands. The forearm is vertical and the racket rotates around the ball producing a devastating mixture of sidespin and toppin; attacking such returns is fraught with danger.
Equally in open play, their backhands are lethal but perhaps different; the powerful backhand of Wang Hao with heavy rotation, especially along the parallel is lethal; whilst for Zhang Jike, his ability to exert topspin on the ball but the “punch” with minimal topspin, the ball dropping quickly, is likewise a point winner.
Returning Service It was Zhang Jike who made the better start, in the first game he led 10-8 before Wang Hao levelled; a pressure moment, Zhang Jike responded to clinch the next two points and was one game to the good.
Confident, Zhang Jike clinched the second game but in the third game Wang Hao responded; the gap was down to one game.
Establishing Control Zhang Jike was content to serve with little backspin, content to let Wang Hao topspin the ball and then attack severely with his own topspin strokes.
In the fourth game, neither play could establish command. They were level at 7-all, the stage at which Zhang Jike moved too points clear; the next point went to Wang Hao. It was 9-8; Zhang Jike called “Time Out”.
The break did not work for Zhang Jike; he did not win another point in the game!
Vital Fifth Game Matters level, Zhang Jike often forcing Wang Hao qway from the table, moved into a 9-5 lead; he won the next point and held five game points.
Five opportunities he needed only one; two game cushion was restored.
Sixth Game Full of self-belief, Zhang Jike moved ahead 5-2 in the sixth game; Wang Hao called “Time Out”; urging himself forward vocally, a deep throated cry following every success, he maintained his advantage.
At 8-4 he was nearing gold, the momentum was with Zhang Jike. He progressed to 9-4, then at 10-5 held five match points after Wang Hao had served off the end of the table.
Drama Wang Hao, the more relaxed, saved all five match points as Zhang Jike made a string of errors.
Then match point again to Zhang Jike, the backhand “punch”, the master stroke; a razor sharp Wang Hao forehand, match point number six saved; then game point to Wang Hao.
Emotional Scenes Zhang Jike saved the game point, 12-all; then 13-12 to Zhang Jike.
Next point to Zhang Jike, he fell to the floor, ripped off his shirt, he was the World champion; incredible scenes.
He rushed to his personal coach sitting in the tribunes, Xiao Zhang, to thank him; emotional scenes!