Liu Guoliang and Kong Linghui (CHN)
GUANGZHOU, China, Dec. 12 - Liu Guoliang has won everything as a player but has yet to prove he is a good coach too.
The wisest man in the business has won a "grand slam" of Olympic, world championships and World Cup singles crowns and became a coach-player last year after more of his rivals got used to his fast-attacking game. The only other grand slam winners are legendary Jan-Ove Waldner and Kong Linghui.
Liu's coaching trial in the 2002 Asian Games fell short because of a lack of experience in making decisions for others but he got some credit as Ma Lin claimed the World Cup this summer.
Yet he received two blows on the opening day of the ITTF Pro Tour finals as world No. 1 Ma Lin and No. 2 Wang Liqin fell in the first round on Thursday, both having listened to Liu's courtside advice.
"It is a real test for me to be head coach of the Chinese men's team," said the 28-year-old Liu. "I need to learn from Cai Zhenhua and other senior coaches."
Cai, one member of China's all-conquering 1981 squad, took the helm of a men's squad in decline in 1991. He groomed his stable and perfected their differing styles which had proved some troublesome to the Europeans.
In 1995, Cai's team snatched the men's team title from Sweden in the world championships in northern Chinese city Tianjin where China clean-swept seven trophies and Liu Guoliang finished second to Kong Linghui in the men's singles.
Cai later gave his job to Yin Xiao when he was promoted as "general head coach". But it was still Cai who called the shots.
Unhappy with Yin's indecision in major events, Cai had planned to replace Yin with Liu Guoliang, who has many adorers in the team because of an enviable record as a player and a pleasant personality.
Beating off the opposition, Cai handpicked Liu as the youngest head coach of the Chinese men's team last June. Cai had taken the same job at 31.
"Liu has high caliber as a coach," said Cai, now deputy director of the Chinese Table Tennis and Badminton Administration. "He is resourceful and players admire him because he has won everything."
Liu jumped to fame at 16 in 1992 as he upset Sweden's Waldner, the man who had held the most Chinese players in awe from the late 1980s to 2000. He later beat Waldner four more times.
Playing in a revised penhold style, Liu was able to twiddle the racket and he could topspin with the reversed rubber from both wings whilst being able to hit from the forehand or block from the backhand.
Liu finished 1996 as a dual Olympic gold medallist and World Cup winner and won the men's singles world championship in 1999.
The day he took charge, Liu named his good friend and 2000 Olympic champion Kong Linghui as captain and Ma Lin and Wang Liqin as "ace players".
"It is an era for Ma Lin and Wang Liqin," said Liu. "I will help them be better players."
Being a head coach does have a change to his life.
"I feel lonely sometimes," he said. "When I was a player, I spent a lot of time playing soccer or singing Karaoke with teammates. Now they are shunning me partly because I pulls a long face to look serious." Enditem