The backhand return of service is a trademark of Zhang Jike
Photo By: Remy Gros
2012 Olympic Games
In the Hungarian city of Tiszaujvaros on Sunday 16th June 2002, a new innovation came to a successful finish and a star was born.
The first ever ITTF Cadet Challenge came to a conclusion with Adham Sharara, ITTF President, presenting the awards, the ultimate presentation was made to winner of the Boys` Singles event. Politely the 14 year old leant forward to have the ribbon with the gold medal attached hung around his neck. Applause and congratulations followed, the cameras flashed and the world had set eyes on Zhang Jike.
Now, a decade later he is the top seed in the Men’s Singles event at the London 2012 Olympic Games and he leads China in the Men’s Team competition.
Outstanding in Linz
Seven years after his success in Tiszaujvaros, he made his debut for the Chinese Men`s Team at the World Cup in Linz and just as in a formative years, he impressed.
He remained unbeaten and in the final against Korea he tore into Oh Sangeun as those there was no tomorrow.
Responds to Challenge
Zhang Jike had arrived and he had underlined one fact indelibly, the greater the challenge, the greater he responded.
One year later, in 2010, he won his first Men`s Singles title on the ITTF Pro Tour when he succeeded at the Harmony China Open in Suzhou but more significantly, earlier in the year, he was selected by Liu Guoliang for the final of the Men´s Team event at the LIEBHERR World Team Championships against Germany.
He duly delivered by beating Christian Süss; it was a match in which he lost the first game and then won the next three. The result summed up Zhang Jike, lose a game and then rise to a new level.
Again Zhang Jike had succeeded on the big stage and of course one year later at the GAC GROUP 2011 World Championships in Rotterdam, he delivered again by winning the Men’s Singles title.
Succeeds Ma Lin
He is now the man in whom Liu Guoliang, the Chinese National Men’s Team Coach, clearly has the greatest of faith; he has succeeded the “Boss”, Ma Lin.
At the recent LIEBHERR World Team Championships in Dortmund, Liu Guoliang sent Zhang Jike out to play first again Timo Boll. Zhang Jike responded; China was on the road to gold.
Needs a Challenge
The bigger the challenge the more Zhang Jike responds; look at his results in the early rounds of a GAC GROUP 2012 ITTF World Tour Tournament.
He finds it very difficult to win a match against a player, a few levels below, in straight games.
It is as though he needs to put himself in a corner in order to be motivated; he enjoys the crisis.
Similar to Swedish Genius
Was the Swedish genius Jan-Ove Waldner not somewhat similar?
Ask any player of international note of the past 20 years to relate their best win; the popular choice by some distance will be Jan-Ove Waldner.
It seems he has lost to everybody but nobody can match his achievements.
Responds in Final
If Zhang Jike had to play Kung Fu Panda in round one he’d need six games; give him Wang Hao in the final and the margin of victory might well be the same.
He is a further refinement in the Chinese coaching scheme; watch Wang Liqin in his heyday, it was one backhand and then move around for a mighty forehand.
Similarly, Ma Long is consistent with his backhand but it is his pile-driver forehand that is the might sword of success.
Zhang Jike is different, the backhand is his strength and he is the master of the modern day backhand technique of the service from all points on the table.
The backhand makes him different; his mentality makes him special
Like John McEnroe
Without the tantrums in many ways he is like the great American tennis star of yesteryear John McEnroe, he thrives on the big stage and perhaps it’s in the stars.
Both share the same birthday.