by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
There is the theory that the first match is the most difficult, acclimatising to the atmosphere in the hall and of course confronting a relaxed adversary with nothing to lose; both lost the opening game before then recovering to win the next four.
“First of all, I am happy to be here, happy to be in China and for the first time in Shenzhen. It’s difficult at the start; you need time to adjust the conditions. I played against a player who is young but already can play really well, he played so aggressively and he was really tough on me. Luckily, he made some errors at critical stages. Anyway, I am satisfied. I look forward to the following matches.” Vladimir Samsonov
Certainly Yukiya Uda is a hungry young man and a quick starter; in his very first match at last week’s Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Hang Seng Hong Kong Open in the Under 21 Men’s Singles event, he beat Korea’s Lim Jonghoon, the top seed!
Success for Vladimir Samsonov, two hours later, advised by Liu Guozheng, in his playing days one of the strongest mentally, it was a successful start for Zhang Jike, a player on whose shoulders there is the immense weight of expectation.
“I have to start from qualification at nearly every competition now. Last time I played in the qualification was ten years ago in 2008. There are lots of young players; they are new faces to me. They are all competitive with their own strengths. I need to prepare for all kinds of difficulties and do my best, play from the heart. I talked about it with coach Liu yesterday. Though I am ranked relatively far down the top 100 list, they still regard me as an arch rival and will do their best. So I need to play in full sail to build up confidence. I am prepared” Zhang Jike
Although not new, for the player who has won all the major titles the sport has to offer, the situation is very different than that experienced when playing in the final of a World Championships or Olympic Games.
“I feel a little strange about playing. Even having played for over ten years, I feel different today; I need two or three months to feel right about the matches. I have to improve my fluency. The number of rounds has increased for me, which requires more energy and strength. My major problem is not strength but energy. For example, before I could win playing one or two rounds. There is also doubles; more energy. Make no mistake I will take every game seriously.” Zhang Jike
Doubles on the agenda and it is Mixed Doubles, he partners Wang Manyu in the first time the event has been held on the ITTF World Tour; maybe Zhang Jike is not the Men’s Singles favourite but to me that looks a pretty formidable Mixed Doubles partnership!