by Ian Marshall, Editor
Similar but there is a difference, on each occasion commencing in 2011 in London, then in the following years in Hangzhou and Dubai, Liu Shiwen always beat the same player, every time it was Chinese national team compatriot, Ding Ning.
Always it has been a fellow Chinese adversary for Chen Meng but never the same; in Astana it was Zhu Yuling, last year in Incheon He Zhuojia, this year Wang Mangyu.
Now the question emerges in 2020, can either Chen Meng or Liu Shiwen make it four in total and thus match the all-time leader, compatriot Zhang Yining?
No other players, since the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals were first held in 1996 in Tianjin, have secured women’s singles title on more than two occasions.
Zhang Yining won in 1999 in Kobe, in 2002 in Stockholm, before in 2005 prevailing in Suzhou and then retaining the title in 2006 in Hong Kong.
Just one step below Zhang Yining but if they are to match her record at ITTF World Tour tournaments, their combined total does not equal that of the player who won every major title the sport has to offer.
Chen Meng and Liu Shiwen are each the owners of 13 ITTF World Tour women’s singles titles; in a 12 year period between succeeding in Malaysia in 1998 and Qatar in 2009, Zhang Yining won on no less than 29 occasions!
A daunting task but Chen Meng can look back on a very successful year on the ITTF World Tour, a total of seven appearances, she won on home soil in Shenzhen, as well as later in the year succeeding in the Korea Republic and Sweden.
Three titles but did Chen Meng commence play in Zhengzhou in the best of form?
All most creditable opponents but in November on the ITTF World Tour in Germany, she had been beaten by Feng Tianwei in the second round, before later in the month experiencing a quarter-final defeat at the T2 Diamond in Singapore, losing to Korea Republic’s Jeon Jihee.
Full distance early contests
In Zhengzhou she answered any doubters but in the opening two rounds facing compatriots, she very nearly came to grief.
She recovered from a three games to one deficit to beat Qian Tianyi, the no.16 seed (11-7, 8-11, 10-12, 12-14, 13-11, 11-8, 11-6), prior to experiencing similar exacting times when opposing Liu Shiwen, the no.6 seed (11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 6-11, 9-11, 11-5, 11-1).
Hard earned wins, at the semi-final stage, rather less dramatically a five games win was posted against Japan’s Mima Ito, the no.2 seed (10-12, 11-8, 11-5, 13-11, 13-11); in the final Wang Manyu awaited.
Surely if there was any fellow Chinese player on duty in Zhengzhou that Chen Meng would have wished to meet in the final, it was Wang Manyu.
Earlier in the year they had faced each other on the ITTF World Tour in Hungary, China and Korea Republic as well as at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest; Chen Meng had won all four encounters..
In Zhengzhou, Chen Meng made it five in a row, a good start very much the key to the success. In the opening game she led throughout but at 9-all it was parity; for a dent in confidence, there is little worse that having an advantage in the opening game and then losing the vital points.
Crucially Chen Meng secured the next two points; in the second game she raced into a 5-0 lead and never let go; in the third from 6-all she did the same to win the next five points and claim a 3-0 lead in games.
Rapid fire exchanges were the order of the day, both players prepared to adopt the modern day backhand return of service style with forearm vertical and wrist circumnavigating the ball; thus following the Chinese adage “today’s men’s technique is tomorrow’s women’s technique”.
Adopting a most positive approach, taking no prisoners, Wang Manyu responded; in the fourth game she established a 10-4 lead. Perhaps a little over eager, she lost the next five points. Understandably she called “time out”; the break worked but only just, she won the next point on a feint edge ball.
A possible recovery imminent, the exchanges at breakneck speed, in the fifth game at 6-all it was parity; the stage at which Chen Meng played to perfection, not another point surrendered, the title secured.
An omen for Wang Manyu
Defeat for Wang Manyu but her first appearance in the gold medal contest at an ITTF World Tour Grand Finals and perhaps there is a message for the 20 year old. The first time Chen Meng reached the title decider was 2015 in Lisbon, she lost to colleague Ding Ning.
She was 21 years old at the time, very similar to Wang Manyu.