by Ian Marshall, Editor
In January, at the start of the year, the lieutenant-in-chief was Chuang Chih-Yuan, he occupied the no.19 spot on the world ranking; Lin Yun-Ju reserved the no.28 position, most impressive for a young man only 17 years old at the time.
At the end of the year when the January order of merit was released, the ranking had changed; Chuang Chih-Yuan, a national team stalwart throughout the present century, had dropped to no.35. Conversely, Lin Yun-Ju had rocketed to stand amongst the elite; he possessed the no.7 spot.
Each month was either the same or higher; the changing of the guard coming in May; Lin Yun-Ju maintained his no.21 position achieved the previous month, Chuang Chih-Yuan dropped from no.20 to no.25; it was a portent for the rest of the year.
In March he won the men’s singles title in Oman and thus has a perfect record; it is the only time he has ever appeared in an ITTF Challenge Series tournament. The focus for Lin Yun-Ju was very much on the ITTF World Tour, he appeared on ten occasions and finished the year in the no.6 spot on the standings.
Immediately following his success in Oman, he made a clear statement in Qatar; he overcame Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting and Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, before experiencing a quarter-final defeat at the hands of China’s Lin Gaoyuan.
Later in the year, he finished in runners up position in Japan, beaten by Xu Xin, before winning in the Czech Republic; a tournament in which he beat the cream of Europe and caused Germany pain. At the semi-final stage he accounted for Timo Boll, in the final he repeated his Qatar success by accounting for Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Progress without a blip on the world rankings but that was not the case in the international arena; he did experience early departures. He reached the quarter-finals in Austria but otherwise it was a first or second round exit. In fact in the first tournament of the year, the 2019 ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open, he did not advance to the main draw; by the very narrowest of margins he was beaten by Zhao Zihao (11-7, 6-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-6, 11-13, 15-13).
However, in that defeat, there was a significant fact; of his men’s singles losses on the 2019 ITTF World Tour, the only occasion when he did not depart at the hands of a Chinese adversary was in Germany. He was beaten by Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik in the opening round.
Notably, overall on the international stage he departed proceedings on only one occasion at the hands of an opponent other than Chinese. In late April at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest, he was beaten in the second round by Panagiotis Gionis of Greece but note, just as it had been by the minimal margin in the decider against Zhao Zihao, so it was when facing the experienced Greek defender (11-5, 8-11, 6-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-9).
Perhaps unaware of the fact, on the international scene in 2019, Panagiotis Gionis was the only European to beat Lin Yun-Jun.
Losing to first team Chinese players, it’s become very much the norm, beating hem is not the norm, it is the yardstick, a measure of a player’s talent both technically and mentally. It was by achieving that feat, Lin Yun-Ju endorsed the fact, he is world class, the end of year world ranking more than justified.
At the T2 Diamond in July in Johor Bahru he emerged the winner, beating Fan Zhendong in the final; later in the year in November when the tournament was staged in Singapore he accounted for Lin Gaoyuan in the penultimate round, prior to experiencing defeat in the final when opposing Xu Xin.
Impressive in Singapore, the following week he was imposing on Chinese soil. At the Chengdu Airlines 2019 ITTF Men’s World Cup, he secured a podium finish in his first ever appearance in the prestigious tournament. He beat the daddy of them all, he beat Ma Long to secure third place.
Change in the order of precedence; the leading name in Chinese Taipei. There was also another change; he replaced Chen Chien-An as the mixed doubles partner for Cheng I-Ching.
At the time it was quite a brave decision; Chen Chien-An and Cheng I-Ching were very much the established pair; at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf they had been the silver medallists, losing in the final to Japan’s Maharu Yoshimura and Kasumi Ishikawa, after holding a three games to one lead (8-11, 8-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-4, 11-9, 11-5).
However, there was no title to their name; the nearest on the ITTF World Tour being in 2018 when losing in the final in Austria to China’s Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen.
Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching set the record straight; after a faltering start in Hungary, experiencing a quarter-final defeat at the hands of Russia’s Alexander Shibaev and Polina Mikhailova, they reached the semi-finals in Qatar, before winning in consecutive weeks in Hong Kong and China. Later they advanced to the penultimate round in Japan, Australia and Germany. They finished the year in the no.2 spot on the standings.
Furthermore at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, they booked their place in the Olympic Games. After accounting for Hungary’s Adam Szudi and Szandra Pergel to reserve a semi-final place, they lost to Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen.
A semi-final exit; in the men’s doubles it was one step further, partnering Liao Cheng-Ting the pair experienced defeat in the final, losing to Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin.
Perhaps it wasn’t a story book ending to the year for Lin Yun-Ju. At the Grand Finals he experienced a quarter-final defeat when facing Lin Gaoyuan but in addition to individual success, he could add a semi-final finish at the semi-final round at the Zen-Noh 2019 World Team Cup in November to his collection.
He could reflect with pride, a year of maturity; the year he became a player of world class.