by James Francis
2009. 2012. 2013. 2015. 2019.
Liu Shiwen (CHN) set an all-time record of five Women’s World Cup titles after winning a pulsating final against fellow Chinese superstar Zhu Yuling on Sunday 20th October at the Uncle Pop 2019 ITTF Women’s World Cup in Chengdu, China.
The victory, secured over six gripping games (4-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-6, 3-11, 11-9), also means that Liu – who won the World Championships women’s singles title in Budapest in April – has won the two most prestigious women’s titles of the year, thus reinforcing the 28-year-old’s chances of playing women’s singles for the first time at an Olympic Games when Tokyo 2020 arrives. Should she go on to claim gold also next year in Japan, she would be crowned a Golden Grand Slam champion – the greatest possible achievement in the sport.
The weight of history on her shoulders looked to be taking its toll when Zhu stormed out of the blocks to take the first game with relative ease. From that point on, Liu put her foot on the gas as a truly epic battle ensued.
Rally after gripping rally, both players showed power and pinpoint accuracy in their shots, the margin for error minute. As Liu started to identify chinks in her opponent’s armour, she capitalised by clinching the next three games in a row to take control of the match.
Zhu threatened a fightback when she won 11-3 in game 5, but Liu held her nerve in the sixth to seal the victory and spark wild celebrations among her thousands of fans who flocked to the Sichuan Province Gymnasium.
“I was much younger the previous four times that I won the World Cup. This year is the last one before Tokyo 2020, so this title is very special to me. Today’s match was really tough and close-fought. I am very happy that I did not give up and still tried my best even when I met some difficulties during the match.” – Liu Shiwen
For Zhu, the defeat denied her of a second Women’s World Cup title. The 2017 champion has endured a tough 2019 – the Asian Championships her only major ITTF title of the calendar year – and the 24-year-old will have seen this event, staged in her home city of Chengdu, as a good opportunity to kickstart her career.
“I was not in good condition recently, but I think I performed well in this tournament. I tried my best to win every point from the very first match. This is something I think I did well this time.” – Zhu Yuling
Zhu assured herself of at least a silver medal by defeating Singapore’s Feng Tianwei in Sunday’s first semi-final: a fiery contest, in which Zhu showed plenty of spirit and skill to overturn a 1-2 deficit and secure a place in the final (11-1, 11-13, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-5).
Feng Tianwei battles to bronze. Again!
2008. 2013. 2016. 2019.
Feng Tianwei (SGP) took home her fourth Women’s World Cup bronze medal of her career – also a new record in the event’s history – after defeating Lily Zhang (USA) over five games (11-6, 11-8, 11-8, 5-11, 15-13) in their first ever meeting.
The in-form Feng, a semi-finalist at last week’s ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open, needed to be at her best to defeat Zhang, the wildcard entry who shocked the world of table tennis to reach the semi-finals and become the first ever USA player to achieve the feat at a Women’s World Cup.
At 33 years old, Feng – a Team World Champion with Singapore in 2010 – has seen plenty of talented players emerge since she did, but heaped the praise on Lily, 10 years her junior:
“I am very satisfied with my performance here. Actually, my goal was to reach the top eight, but now I have brought home the bronze medal, I am very happy. This is my first time playing against Lily. Today she posed a big threat. She is an outstanding player and I know she is a top student as well. It is not easy for her to achieve this high level.” – Feng Tianwei
Lily lives the American Dream
The first ever USA athlete to reach the semi-finals of a Women’s World Cup. Lily Zhang, born and raised in California, captured the hearts and imagination of American, North American and international table tennis this week in Chengdu.
The world no. 49 achieved the extraordinary feat on Saturday 19th October by beating Sofia Polcanova (AUT) in the quarter-final (11-9, 8-11, 11-8, 4-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-8) after causing an even bigger shock in the round of 16 when she stunned world no. 9 Miu Hirano (JPN) in seven scintillating games (12-10, 11-8, 8-11, 8-11, 8-11, 11-5, 11-5).
Her semi-final on Sunday morning against eventual champion Liu Shiwen proved to be a bridge too far, as she lost in straight games (6-11, 1-11, 5-11, 5-11). Nonetheless, this had been a hugely successful tournament and rich learning experience for the 23-year-old:
“Liu Shiwen is just too strong for me. She did better than me in every aspect. I will keep the match footage, as I am sure I can learn a lot from her.” – Lily Zhang
Lily has created history at a moment of enormous significance for American table tennis: in 2021 the World Championships Finals will be staged in Houston, Texas, for what will be the greatest and most innovative event the sport has ever known.
Click here to read more about Lily’s incredible journey.
Chengdu – Tokyo – Chengdu!
Once the dust eventually settles on a sensational Women’s World Cup, Chengdu will be preparing to stage the 2019 ITTF Men’s World Cup between 29th November and 1st December.
A star-studded cast awaits, including World champion Ma Long (CHN), Asian Cup champion Fan Zhendong (CHN), Europe Cup champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), Pan American Cup champion Hugo Calderano (BRA), Africa Cup champion Omar Assar (EGY) and Oceania Cup champion Heming Hu (AUS), as well as evergreen legends Timo Boll (GER) and Vladimir Samsonov (BLR) alongside ever-growing talents Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) and Lin Yun-Ju (TPE).
Before then, there will be the Team World Cup taking place between 6th – 10th November in Tokyo, Japan, where China will be aiming to defend their titles in both men’s and women’s competitions.