by Kabir Nagpal
The 2019 ITTF-ATTU Asian Table Tennis Championships begin this week, with the elite prize of successful qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games for the winning outfits in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
‘Xuperman’ leads the plot
When it comes to the top stage, it is hard to not consider Team China as the top favorites. Led by current World no.1 and no.2 in Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong, their men’s team is perhaps the most balanced with both experience and youthful energy. Their participation at the Championships will be across all four events of singles, doubles, mixed doubles and team competitions. One of the Chinese players playing across them all is Xu Xin:
“When the first time that I was told that I needed to play all four events, I was also in doubt if I could make it. And so I decided I won’t make any specific requirement about what results I must achieve this time. After I played Japan Open and Korea Open in both of which I played singles, doubles and mixed doubles, I feel that I have the ability to take this challenge. I hope I can use that experience as I take an even bigger challenge at Asian Championships.” Xu Xin
Helping him along the way in Indonesia will be 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Portugal Open winner Liang Jingkun, his opponent in that final Lin Gaoyuan, and the prodigious Wang Chuqin. Both Liang and Wang have enjoyed good form this year, performing consistently across different tournaments.
Liang started the year by beating his compatriot Fan Zhendong at the World Table Tennis Championships round of 16, announcing his arrival on the elite stages. His win against Fan came shortly after he accounted for German legend Timo Boll at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in December 2018; a potential rematch may be on the cards.
As for Wang, the 2018 Youth Olympic Games double gold medallist had a momentous win over the “Dragon” Ma Long at the ITTF World Tour Australia Open in Geelong. Since then, he has not looked back; this year, the 19-year-old has a 76% win rate across 55 matches – a stat of which his seniors would be proud.
Liu wants Gold, and a challenge
Team China’s men’s line-up is very evenly matched by the women’s team, for whom leading the charge will be another World no.1 in Chen Meng, with an elite list of athletes by her side.
World Table Tennis Champion in Budapest, Liu Shiwen has been outspoken about her expecations from the upcoming continental championships:
“I hope I can win the title in the team and mixed doubles events. For the singles, I just take the mindset of being a challenger. I hope that I can play out on the court what I have trained in recent times and show an overall better mental attitude.” Liu Shiwen
If there’s a team with mentally strong athletes, China’s women’s side can surely give them a run for their money. The 2019 ITTF World Tour Qatar Open winner Wang Manyu and the rising star Sun Yingsha will also be present in Yogyakarta. Both are the designated ‘youngsters’ in this squad, given their ages of 20 and 18 years – but can be equally as lethal on the court.
Sun and Wang were both partners in their winning run at the 2019 Qatar Open as well the Japan Open. It will very intriguing to see them bring their camaraderie and team experience to this side – something which might just prove to be the difference in Indonesia.
Queen of Hearts lays down masterplan
Speaking of experience, ‘The Queen of Hearts’ Ding Ning is somewhat of a veteran across pretty much every elite table tennis competition. The reigning Olympic Games champion has put in a string of amazing performances this year, reaching two consecutive finals on the World Tour – the Korea Open and Australia Open.
The current world no.2 has had ups and downs in her career. She knows it is important to take all her experience as lessons for the future. Talking about her future decisions and the upcoming Asian Championships, she was very clear about staying focused on the big picture:
“I need to reserve more physical energy for the upcoming events, like the Asian Championships. It is just a beginning and there are still a lot of tournaments up ahead. I will not only focus on what to achieve this time, but also I need to have a better plan for the future.” Ding Ning
There is a seriousness about Team China going into these continental championships. Every one of their athletes is pumped and has only gold in their sights. Will anyone be able to stop them?