// Top seed falls at first hurdle, luck not on side of Emmanuel Lebesson - International Table Tennis Federation


07 Dec 2019

Favourite for gold, top seed, Emmanuel Lebesson of France suffered a shock opening round defeat in the men’s singles event on Friday 6th December at the Benemax-Virgo 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus, North American Open.

He was beaten by China’s 19 year old Yuan Licen (7-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-7, 11-6).

by Ian Marshall, Editor

A surprise defeat, even more of a surprise the fact that in the qualification round, Yuan Licen had lost to Emmanuel Lebesson’s colleague Irvin Bertrand (7-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9, 10-12, 11-6).

He gained the one and only “Lucky Loser” place available!

“The experienced Frenchman looked to have the upper hand as he sailed to a 2-1 lead, offering plenty of difficult scenarios for his younger opponent. Yuan stepped up his game and began to confidently dismantle the challenges ahead of him. He picked up well on any of Lebesson’s serves that drifted slightly long and clung to each open rally with power and prowess.

When the pressure fell upon both players, it was the superior technical game of Yuan which began to show. He took game four to level the match at 2-2. Yuan was aggressive on receive and played with precision in the open rallies. The balance of the match was beginning to fall towards the young Chinese player.

Lebesson played with great acceleration over the table and unleashed some explosive forehand strokes but Yuan had his measure and the lead was beginning to increase as he took the fifth game. There was no looking back for Yuan, he had been gifted a second chance and showed every sign of taking it. He moved in on the sixth game, countering with accuracy and matching Lebesson in the forehand counter loop rallies.

As Lebesson pushed to fight back into the match, Yuan made his move for the finish line. Vocal and positive, he made it over the line, a 4-2 victory.” Matt Hetherington

ITTF World Junior Circuit

Presently owing to a lack of international exposure, Yuan Licen has no world ranking but he is no stranger to international play. A left hander, like Emmanuel Lebesson, Yuan Licen enjoyed success on the ITTF World Junior Circuit.

In 2016 and 2018 he was a semi-finalist on home soil in Taicang; in the former year also the runner up in Hong Kong. In addition in 2018 he won in Oman, notably beating colleague Xu Haidong in the final, the player who later in the year in December was to be crowned world junior champion.


Excelling when playing over the table, very much in the same manner as Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Jun, Yuan Licen may not be the most powerful player on planet earth, it is his control which makes him such a formidable opponent.

“I just joined the national team and I did not have any expectation for this match, I just wanted to do my best”. Yuan Licen

A place in the second round, now can Yuan Licen match his previous best finish at an ITTF Challenge Series tournament? Earlier this year in November at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Belgosstrakh Belarus Open, he reached the quarter-final round.


He was beaten by colleague, Xu Yingbin (11-3, 11-8, 11-7, 13-11), who then lost Emmanuel Lebesson (6-11, 5-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-3, 11-4, 11-9), the champion elect. In the final Emmanuel Lebesson accounted for Japan’s Yukiya Uda (12-10, 12-10, 13-11, 11-5).

In Markham, Emmanuel Lebesson, crowned European champion in 2016 in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest, was not able to match the Minsk performance; once again the incredible depth of Chinese talent was underlined.

Challenge Series 2019 North America Emmanuel Lebesson Yuan Licen

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Day 3 - 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Benemax-Virgo North American Open