by Simon Daish
Making a dream Women’s World Cup debut on home soil in 2016 where she achieved a top 16 finish but in 2017 it was a group stage exit for Lily Zhang. Back after a one year absence from the event the American was keen to return to the main draw, a feat she achieved on a dramatic opening day in Chengdu.
Zhang’s day opened the day with a positive display but ultimately defeat as she succumbed to a 4-1 loss at the hands of the highest seeded player involved in the initial stage, Romania’s Bernadette Szocs (11-9, 8-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-3). The result, in addition to Szocs’ 4-2 win over Adriana Diaz (11-3, 11-9, 8-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-2), left Zhang’s hopes of qualification on a knife edge.
With Szocs taking first position in the group, the race for the runner up spot came down to a head-to-head contest between Zhang and Diaz with the victor moving through to the next round. A tense clash which saw three games being decided by the narrowest of margins, but after four gruelling games it was Zhang who prevailed (12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11) to reach the round of 16 for the second time in her career.
Wu Yue travelled to Chengdu with a clear goal in sight and that was to pick up her first win on the Women’s World Cup stage at the third attempt. She passed that test with flying colours, winning both of her Group D encounters to obtain her ticket to the round of 16 for the first time!
The 29 year old started her group stage journey with a shock 4-0 victory over 2015 European champion Elizabeta Samara (11-8, 11-9, 11-6, 18-16), to all but put her name into the next stage. Qualification was confirmed soon after as group favourite Samara suffered her second defeat of the day, losing out to Canada’s Zhang Mo (5-11, 11-4, 11-9, 3-11, 11-9, 1-11, 11-9) to guarantee the top two positions for the North American players.
Rounding off the Group D fixture list was the meeting of Wu and Zhang, who found themselves in the unanticipated scenario of a first place play-off. All three of their previous head-to-heads on the international stage had favoured the Canadian but this time out it was the United States player’s time to shine, winning 4-1 (11-6, 11-4, 11-5, 8-11, 11-5) to top the group.
The Uncle Pop 2019 ITTF Women’s World Cup resumes with round of 16 action on Saturday 19th October.