by Simon Daish
Twice a women’s singles runner up at ITTF World Tour Platinum events this year, gold medallist at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest and most recently crowned Uncle Pop Women’s World Cup champion for a record fifth time, Liu Shiwen has undoubtedly been one of the standout names in 2019.
Very much in-form and considered one of the favourites to claim the title in Linz, few could have predicted that Liu would fall at the first hurdle in Austria. But, that’s exactly what happened!
Standing opposite the table tennis giant was another member of Team China, 19-year-old Qian Tianyi whose standout accomplishment leading up to the contest was being crowned 2018 World Junior champion. Qian’s personal best finish on the ITTF World Tour came just last month at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open in Stockholm, where she reached the quarter-finals.
Never having met head-to-head on the international stage prior, on paper this was a draw with which Liu Shiwen fans would have been happy. However, it was a good day to be a Qian Tianyi fan instead!
Early signs in the 4:40 pm fixture suggested Liu was set to pick up another routine victory with three of the opening four games going in her favour. Just one more game win was required to seal her spot in round two, but that game never arrived.
Trailing 1-3, the task was getting more difficult by the second but Qian refused to give up the fight and before long the tie was level at 3-3. There was tension in the air which Liu sensed and for some reason, Qian was using it to her advantage. And still, when the seventh game was contested to find a winner, a 3-5 points lead in the pocket meant that Liu was sitting pretty.
Yet, it was not to be for the second seeded entry in Linz as qualifier Qian Tianyi snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (8-11, 11-8, 8-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8) to pull off a monumental 4-3 upset.
It’s farewell to Liu Shiwen for now – as for Qian Tianwei the journey continues on Friday 15th November where one of Korea Republic’s Choi Hyojoo or the host nation’s Sofia Polcanova awaits in the quarter-finals.