by Kabir Nagpal and James Francis
In the world of table tennis, a ‘Hurricane’ can only mean one thing: it is the nickname owned by Japanese star Miu Hirano, renowned for her rapid, attacking play that has seen her achieve so much in the game already for a teenager. Aged only 16, she lifted the 2016 ITTF Women’s World Cup in Philadelphia, United States.
Call it coincidence, but today’s ‘Hurricane’ came from the ‘Land of Stars and Stripes’ in the form of Lily Zhang. The California-raised athlete and world no. 49 entered this week’s big event in Chengdu, China, as a wild card. One of North America’s most exciting talents, Lily’s performances are sending shockwaves through the world of table tennis right now!
The 23-year-old headed to Chengdu off the back of a spectacular showing at the 2019 ITTF-Pan American Championships in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, winning all four titles she was eligible to compete for. And it seems like she brought that momentum with her in her backpack when she landed this week in China!
Having only competed at the Women’s World Cup twice in her career, she had never crossed the round of 16 barrier – until today. The six-time US national champion has truly cashed in on her third appearance, beating the no.4 seed, Miu Hirano in a stunning 7-game victory to clinch a spot in the quarter-finals.
As she had done the previous day in her victory over Puerto Rico’s highly-rated Adriana Diaz, Lily started strong, taking the game to her opponent and duly took the first two games to the amazement of a capacity crowd at the Sichuan Province Gymnasium.
When Hirano hit back winning three straight games, most thought that a golden opportunity had slipped through the American’s hands. Lily had other ideas however, levelling the scores at 3-3 and entering the deciding game with positive, forward momentum.
For all the speed of Hirano’s play, it was spectacular how Lily handled herself at the table, moving effortlessly where the ball went and being certain to leave the shots destined to go long.
Before long, Lily found herself in the enviable position of having 5 match points over Hirano, and she finished the job in at the first possible opportunity with yet another breath-taking rally.
Final score: 4-3 (12-10, 11-8, 8-11,8-11, 8-11, 11-5, 11-5) equating to one hour and three minutes of some mind boggling table tennis that you simply must revisit on itTV!
“I am so happy now. I watched her (Miu Hirano’s) match footage last night. She is much higher than me in the world ranking, so I felt under no pressure at all. I just focused on my own game today. I led 2-0 which gave me a lot of confidence. When she won the next three games, I still believed that I had a chance and that I could come back. She is very fast, but I am speedy as well, so I feel very comfortable playing against her.” Lily Zhang
So what’s next for the no. 18 seed at the Women’s World Cup? Well, a tasty battle against Austrian Sofia Polcanova awaits (Live on itTV at 17:15 GMT+8) and who knows, maybe even a spot in the semi-finals??