by Wade Townsend
Wang Liqin, the defending champion, led Werner Schalger three games to two and 10-7 in the quarter-final of the Liebherr 2003 World Championships in Paris. The Austrian decided a long serve was best suited to this situation; that is some serious courage, but it worked. Wang looped down the line and Schlager ducked his head and countered.
Another chance for China; at 10-9 it all looked over when Wang hit a ball Schlager’s body. It seemed a guaranteed winner.
But the acrobatic Austrian jumped in the air, contorted his body, and played the ball mere millimetres from his stomach. Wang Liqin, perhaps in part due to surprise, missed the return.
Both arms raised, Schlager charged around the court to celebrate. It was like he knew that would be the defining moment of the tournament. A few more match points saved and the 1999 bronze medallist took the match and found himself in the semi-final with a chance to upgrade his medal from last time around.
Kong Linghui, the reigning Olympic champion, stood in his way. Once again Schlager was down, but he was far from out. Down 12-11 in the seventh, he destroyed the serve with a forehand flick winner. Two points later and he was in to the final.
And we all know how that ended; a 12-10 in the sixth game victory for the Austrian legend against Joo Saehyuk.
“My goal was the quarter-finals and perhaps a medal if everything went my way. This is just unbelievable, playing and winning in front of a crowd of 10.000 people, all going crazy, it is like a dream. Players from over a hundred and thirty countries entered the tournament, over a billion play the sport in China and I’m world champion; it’s dream come true!” Werner Schlager
Some fourteen years later and Schlager’s win in Paris has a touch of melancholy about it. The moment marked the end of an era.
Six World Championships later and only China has stood on top of the podium. The Great Wall of China has kept all pretenders at bay.
Could the Liebherr 2017 World Table Tennis Championships bring an end to China’s streak?