by Simon Daish
For many professional athletes their introduction to the sport they love falls somewhere along the lines of joining a club from a young age, falling in love with the sport and dreaming of representing their country on the global stage. However, Lily Zhang’s table tennis origins are somewhat different!
Resident at Stanford University for eight years while her father, Bo Zhang, served as a professor of mathematics, Lily’s sporting journey was born in a humble laundry room located on the university campus which housed a table tennis table. While waiting for their clothes to dry, Lily and her parents would play to keep themselves entertained.
Before long Lily made the transition from laundry room table tennis to club table tennis and then, aged 12, she represented Team USA at the 2009 World Table Tennis Championships in Yokohama. In November 2011 Lily took home women’s doubles gold at the Peace and Sport Cup in Doha, partnering Anna Tokhomirova of Russia. One year later Lily made her Olympic Games debut in London and was also present at Rio 2016, reaching the third round of the women’s singles draw at the latter event.
Lily’s domestic record is simply outstanding, becoming US national champion for the fifth time in July this year. She was also the first table tennis players from the United States to take home a bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 and has even met with former President Barack Obama!
During much of her table tennis career Lily has had to endure the struggles of trying to balance her time on the table with her academic studies but, despite the busy timetable, she has managed to establish herself as one of her country’s top and most exciting players. Now a graduate of Berkeley University her attention is fully dedicated to the sport and the results are there to be seen.
Player of the tournament in Asunción
The 23-year-old has been in the spotlight recently thanks to her incredible outing at the 2019 ITTF-Pan American Championships, taking home all four titles available to her in Asunción.
Seeded fourth, Lily accounted for top seed Zhang Mo of Canada (11-9, 11-7, 11-4, 14-12) in the women’s singles semi-finals prior to a convincing victory over Brazilian third seed Bruna Takahashi (11-8, 11-7, 11-3, 11-9) to lift the trophy for the first time.
Lily also played an important role in the United States’ women’s team success, emerging undefeated in the four fixtures she was fielded for including the final which saw the US team edge Brazil in a 3-2 thriller.
Forming a formidable partnership with Wu Yue, Lily landed another gold medal in the women’s doubles draw. However, her mixed doubles campaign was even more noteworthy as she and Kai Zhang, seeded seventh as a pair, battled their way to the top step of the podium.
Exciting times ahead for US women’s team
Understandably Lily Zhang is stealing the limelight, but there was further encouragement for US table tennis at the Pan American Championships: Wu Yue, as ever, continues to be a reliable leader for her country while young stars Amy Wang and Crystal Wang, aged 16 and 17 respectively, showed their potential in Asunción with impressive scalps against Adriana Diaz (11-9, 5-11, 2-11, 11-9, 11-6) and Jessica Yamada (11-7, 6-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9).
All in all there were plenty of positives for Team USA to celebrate in Asunción and with Houston, Texas set to host the newly expanded World Table Tennis Championships in 2021, the timing couldn’t be any better!