14 Nov 2017

There has been an awakening and for the first time this decade China looks vulnerable. Is the age of China's dominance coming to an end?

by Wade Townsend

It’s over. China has lost their dominance in men’s table tennis. We are entering the reign of Germany. The king is dead, long live the king!

Jumping to conclusions? Maybe. But jumping to conclusions is a lot more fun than calmly walking to them.

China fell short in the the Men’s World Cup and now the Men’s Singles at the German Open; that’s consecutive events where they were absent from the final. Dima took down Boll both times and Deutschland added to their growing collection of silverware.

But it’s not just the Germans. Lee Sangsu steamrolled Xu Xin in Magdeburg. Sangsu is no slouch. He has a bonze medal from Düsseldorf to prove it. But winning 4-0? That’s basically unheard of.

Some Chinese media are calling this ‘the winter of men’s table tennis’.

This could all very well be just a blip on the radar. But blips are boring, so let’s assume that something else is going down.

For almost two decades it has been China versus the world, and for the first time in this battle for global domination, it looks like the world may have the upper hand. From every which way you look at it, China have dropped the ball in men’s table tennis.

If true it’s a seismic shift. Tectonic plates are moving and the table tennis map is being rewritten.

Xu Xin wishing his loss to Lee Sangsu was just a bad dream. (Photo: Rémy Gros)

 

And perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. The longer you’re at the top, the larger the target on your back becomes. No one is spending time analysing how to defeat a player ranked below them. This means China has had the whole world plotting their demise. The table tennis coup d’état has begun.

Then there is the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. The players outside of China have had to be open to experimentation so as to make any sort of progress against the world’s best. Does anybody remember Dima trying out Chinese rubber on the forehand last year? It didn’t work out, and only lasted for maybe two events but without experimentation there is no progress.

In their dominance have China become complacent?

It is definitely a testing time for the players. Particularly during the changing of the guard in regards to coaching.

When Liu Guoliang first took the reigns of the Chinese team the men failed to win gold at the Athens Olympic Games. What followed however was complete domination of the sport on an unprecedented level.

With Liu no longer at the wheel, someone else has to steer Team China. A new generation of coaches needs time to adjust, just like a new generation of players. At the German Open last week we saw Wang Hao on the bench attempting to guide Fan Zhendong, the last remaining Chinese player, to the final. It didn’t work out, but Wang Hao isn’t one for giving up easily. The World Champion will be hitting the books and analysing where he went wrong.

But what if they can’t come up with the answers? What will be the tipping point?

The watershed moment is clear when China lose their grip on the number one world ranking. That will be the day that panic spreads in the table tennis schools from Chengdu to Beijing.

But if the men’s team is having trouble bringing home gold, they needn’t worry; the women’s team has got their back. For now.

China News ma long xu xin Dimitrij Ovtcharov Timo Boll Lee Sangsu liu guoliang Wang Hao