23 Dec 2019

She started 2019 as the world champion; in January she stood in top spot on the women’s world rankings, she ended the year with the coveted title no longer in her possession, in December, she occupied the no.7 position in the global order, her lowest listing for some 18 months.

It was for China’s Ding Ning, a period of her distinguished career, quite out of the established norm; time and again she has enjoyed “annus mirabilis” the past year was more like “annus horribilis”.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

As the year dawned, did we not think that Ding Ning may equal or even surpass the record of her illustrious now retired compatriot, Wang Nan. She had won a total of 16 ITTF World Tour women’s singles titles commencing as a 19 year old in 1997 in Fort Lauderdale and concluding 10 years later in Doha.

She was second on the all time list behind colleague, Zhang Yining, the owner of 29 such accolades and totally out of sight!

Ding Ning started the year with 14 titles; she ended the year with the same number. Overall six ITTF World Tour appearances, the no.7 spot on the women’s singles standings was the result.

Considering the fact that she appeared in exactly half the number of tournaments on the 2019 ITTF World Tour calendar, less than any other player who qualified for the women’s singles event at Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Zhengzhou, the listing has no great significance.

Significant fact

The significant fact is in the six appearances, the manner in which she lost. Ding Ning has an outgoing, smiling, most amiable character but inside there are nerves of steel; the reputation is if she loses, she comes back stronger and rectifies the situation. The final at the Qoros 2015 World Championships in Suzhou, now part of sporting folklore, described her will to win. At the start of the seventh game against colleague, Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning suffered an ankle injury, she won playing on virtually one leg.

On the 2019 ITTF World Tour, there is no question of the effort Ding Ning made but it is surprising that in those six defeats, she won just four games! She did not put the record straight.

Three in a row

Opposing colleagues, she experienced a straight games quarter-final defeat against Wang Manyu in Qatar (11-6, 11-1, 11-6, 11-4); later in the year when facing Sun Yingsha, it was a similar outcome in the final in Australia (11-1, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9) and in the quarter-final in Sweden (11-9, 11-7, 13-11, 11-7).

Notably, the loss in Sweden meant it was three in a row against Sun Yingsha.

In early July, Ding Ning had prevailed in seven games when they met in the Korea Republic (8-11, 11-5, 8-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8), their first international meeting of the year, it was to be the only win for Ding Ning. Less than two weeks prior to the meeting in Stockholm, in the penultimate round at the ITTF-ATTU Asian Championships in Yogyakarta, she was beaten in four games, in a best of five games contest (11-3, 11-1, 7-11, 11-9).

Further disappointments

Meanwhile, on the ITTF World Tour, in the quarter-final on home soil in China, it was a five games defeat at the hands of Japan’s Mima Ito (7-11, 12-10, 18-16, 13-11, 11-9), as it was against colleague Chen Meng in the final in the Korea Republic (11-5, 11-6, 11-5, 7-11, 11-9).

The one further defeat was a six games reverse when confronting Japan’s Hitomi Sato in Sapporo (12-10, 6-11, 3-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-9).

Add to the list, at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest, at the semi-final stage against Liu Shiwen, she won the opening two games but then, in the next four, only secured a total of 12 points (6-11, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-0, 11-2).

Defensive gremlins return

Disappointments and to cap the year off, there was further disappointment. Just as on the ITTF World Tour earlier in the year in Japan, she had experienced defeat against the defensive skills of Hitomi Sato, in Zhengzhou she suffered again. Once more she was beaten in six games (4-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-4).

Surprising, especially when considered on the 2018 ITTF World Tour in China in June of that year, in their quarter-final duel, Ding Ning had beaten Hitomi Sato without the loss of a single game (11-7, 11-3, 11-7, 11-5).

Now, look back at the career of Ding Ning; in her later teenage years, a similar age to the now 19 year old Sun Yingsha, Ding Ning did experience problems when facing defenders, those from the Korea Republic.
She lost to Kim Kyungah on the 2008 ITTF World Tour in China, the following year in Denmark as well as in England. In addition in the latter year, she suffered at the China versus World Team Challenge in Shanghai. Also, in 2009 she was beaten at the Qatar Open by Park Miyoung.

More experience, more adept

However, ever since those days, Ding Ning always won against the Korea Republic pair; surely as she became more experienced she would become more adept against the defensive art.

The defeats against Hitomi Sato contradicted that theory; just as did the whole year, for Ding Ning it was a year out of character.

One thought; Ding Ning does not take kindly to defeat, that is why whatever the record in 2019 may read, she is one of our sport’s great champion. A New Year resolution or perhaps a warning, the rest of the world beware!

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