Winners in January on the ITTF World Tour in Austria and just under one week earlier in Kuwait; the formidable Chinese partnership of Ding Ning, the reigning World champion and Li Xiaoxia, the London 2012 Olympic champion, won the Womenís Doubles title at the second Super Series tournament of the year.
The no.2 seeds, they beat surprise finalists, the German combination of Zhenqi Barthel and Shan Xiaona to clinch the title (11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 11-9) at the ITTF World Tour Qatar Open in Doha on the afternoon of Sunday 24th February.
Success for China but they had to work for their victory against the German duo who had excelled to reach the final and excelled in the final; very different from the Menís Doubles final where Wang Hao and Yan had received a walk-over against Ma Long and Zhang Jike.
Back Injury Forced Absence of Zhang Jike Owing to a back injury, on the previous evening Zhang Jike had withdrawn from his Menís Singles semi-final clash against Yan An at the end of the second game and was not sufficiently fit to compete in the Menís Doubles final.
Germans Excel It was success as predicted but great credit must go to the German duo; reaching the final in such a prestigious tournament was a fine achievement. Furthermore, they posed a host of problems.
The wisdom of Kong Linghui, the Chinese National Team Coach, sitting courtside, was in demand.
Complemented Each Other Not seeded Zhenqi Barthel and Shan Xiaona were playing as Womenís Doubles partners for the first time on the ITTF World Tour; a partnership that clearly complemented each other.
The pen-hold style, short pimpled rubber on the forehand adopted by Shan Xiaona had proved the perfect foil for the shake-hands grip top spin attacking style of Zhenqi Barthel.
Held Answers However, against Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia; whatever the combination, they held the answers and of course there was a gulf in both experience and success in Womenís Doubles events on the World Tour.
Experience of Finals Ding Ning was playing in her 30th ITTF World Tour Doubles final, for Li Xiaoxia it was her 30th appearance; Ding Ning had progressed to secure gold on eleven occasions, Li Xiaoxia 19 times; the greatest success coming with Guo Yue.
Prior to 2013, the duo had rarely been in tandem on the international scene; notably they won as a pairing in Schwechat at the Austrian Open in 2011.
New Territory Conversely, Shan Xiaona had never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of either a Womenís Singles or Womenís Doubles event on the ITTF World Tour; similarly a final was totally new territory for Zhenqi Barthel.
In 2009 in Bremen she reached the quarter-final stage of the Womenís Singles event at the German Open when losing to Singaporeís Sun Beibei; whilst in 2012 in Budapest at the GAC GROUP ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open, she progressed to the semi-final stage of the Womenís Doubles event, where Chinaís Fang Ying and Wu Yang ended progressed.
No Real Comparison On that occasion she partnered Sabine Winter but her exploits with Shan Xiaona in Doha far outweigh the achievement in Budapest.
In the Hungarian capital city, the pair beat the combination of Chinese Taipeiís Li I-Chen and Germanyís Elke Schall in the opening round before receiving a quarter-final walk-over against Li I-Chenís colleagues, Cheng I-Ching and Huang Yi-Hua.
Fine Achievement At the ITTF 2013 World Tour Qatar Open the right to play in the final was well-earned; the silver medal was a fine achievement.