by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Now 34 years old, Gao Ning has been the backbone of Singaporean success since we first saw him reach the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event at the 2015 ITTF World Tour Slovenian Open in Velenje.
Skills honed in Shijiazhuang, a city some two hours west of Beijing, Gao Ning is one of those players I would suggest is much better than he appears. He is workmanlike in his approach, there is nothing extravagant about his play and most certainly the short forehand topspin stroke, executed with efficiency, has caused many an adversary headaches.
A measure of his quality was at the 2011 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in London when he beat the two most recent Olympic champions to reach the semi-final before losing to one who became Olympic champion. In London’s ExCeL Exhibition Centre he beat Korea’s Ryu Seungmin, the Athens 2004 champion, before ousting China’s Ma Lin, the Beijing 2008 winner. The latter’s colleague, Zhang Jike, who was to win in London, ended progress.
On the concluding day of action in Bangkok, Gao Ning is in demand. At the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event, the top seed, he faces Kang Dongsoo; in the Men’s Doubles, he partners colleague Pang Xue Jie. The Singaporeans, qualifiers, face Japan’s Kenji Matsudaira and Jin Ueda, the no.5 seeds.
Similarly, Jin Ueda is a busy man; at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event, the no.3 seed, it is not defence he faces, it is the speed of Park Jeongwoo, the no.13 seed, and also from Korea.
Meanwhile, in the penultimate round of the Women’s Singles event; both contests are defence versus attack. Hitomi Sato, the no.2 seed, opposes Singapore’s Zeng Jian, the no.3 seed; Honoka Hashimoto, the no.4 seed, confronts Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem, the top seed.
Similar to the men, there is a full itinerary for the ladies; in the Women’s Doubles final, three of the Women’s Singles semi-finalists are involved. Honoka Hashimoto and Hitomi Sato, the top seeds, meet Doo Hoi Kem and her Hong Kong colleague, Mak Tze Wing in the final, the no.2 seeds.