by Kabir Nagpal
Unless 2019 had most table tennis fans shy of a television or computer screen, the chances are quite high that everyone has heard of his name.
More than another young emerging talent with a penchant of doing the impossible on the table, Chinese Taipei has unearthed a real gem; a young man with a temperament well beyond his years, Lin Yun-Ju has impacted the international table tennis scene in some fashion.
Bringing style to the table
The 18 year old achieved a milestone when he won the men’s singles title at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Czech Open in August, notably beating Germany’s former world no.1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the final (11-9, 11-5, 4-11, 11-5, 11-9). The win came after he had previously accounted for Hong Kong’s pen-holder Wong Chun Ting in superb battle of the wits.
However, this was not where his story started – it was merely his crowning glory in a year where he had performed consistently and showcased his talent for everyone to see – only people were rather skeptical of his achievements. By the time he climbed the podium in Olomouc, Lin had claimed consecutive mixed doubles titles at the Hong Kong and China Opens, individual glory at the T2 Diamond Malaysia event, and also an elusive triple win (men’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles titles) at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open.
“I am very happy to win my first World Tour title. I played against German players Boll and Ovtcharov before so I was familiar with their playing styles. In the final, I felt comfortable because I was able to attack first. Also, my coach helped me today. He called “time out” when I was losing and he advised me to change tactics and my service a little bit. I think that this title won’t change my career so much — the matches will be still the same, maybe even harder.” Lin Yun-Ju
The left-handed shake-hands grip athlete has exploited the best of his grip, using an explosive forehand attack and lightning quick footwork to always appear in the right place at the right time; his work ethic has been on show since early January 2018, the month which started a huge soar in the world rankings. He moved up 118 spots to no.16 in July 2019. Little did he know there was so much more on his way.
The new golden hand
After his win in the Czech Republic, Lin went on to reach a fifth place finish at the ITTF-ATTU Lion Asian Cup in Yokohoma and thus qualified for a first ever Men World Cup appearance. Additionally, just prior, Lin also reached the podium with his national team and claimed bronze at the ITTF Team World Cup.
At this point in the year, the Chinese Taipei prodigy broke through the top 10 world rankings and staked a strong claim as the “outsider” in the upcoming World Cup.
Quickly dubbed the new “golden hand” – a name formerly given to the likewise left handed late Croatian, Anton Stipancic in the 1970s and 1980s – Lin was starting to live up to the man who represented Yugoslavia with utmost pride throughout the world.
An increasing confidence allowed Lin to use deft touches and incredible skill in such tandem that thrilled crowds no matter who he played. In Chengdu, where the best of best men’s players had assembled, Lin was making sure everyone counted him as one of them.
Playing in his first ever World Cup tournament in 2015 in Halmstad, China’s Fan Zhendong was 18 years and 268 days old; he ended up reaching the semi-final stage. Well, guess what, Lin Yun-Ju was 18 years and 105 days old on his debut in China, and he also ended up reaching the semi-finals.
The decade of Lin?
All this time, Lin has been unfazed by the pressure of the spotlight, something which is well illustrated every time he is faced with one of his peers in the top 10; a fact underlined by his win over current world no.1 Fan Zhendong in Johor Bahru at the T2 Diamond Malaysia event.
Significantly when the young man from Chinese Taipei had finally secured the win over Fan – and in convincing fashion – the complete absence of an over-the-top celebration displayed the reason why he won first place. The air of calm he exhibited brings the thought to mind of what he can achieve in years to come.
Now ranked no.6 on the world rankings, Lin Yun-Ju has every eye following his every move; he is touted to be one who will make 2020 his own. In the year that holds the most important sporting event ever – the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – are we about to see a prophecy fulfilled?