by Ian Marshall, Editor
Arguably, the somewhat surprise omission in the men’s team is Lin Gaoyuan, for the women Wang Manyu.
Both appeared in the selections for the Liebherr 2018 World Team Championships in Halmstad and for the most recent ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF World Team Cup in Tokyo. Furthermore, each enjoyed success on last year’s ITTF World Tour; Lin Gaoyuan won men’s singles titles in Hungary and Hong Kong, Wang Manyu emerged the women’s singles champion in Qatar.
However, those successes were all in the first six months of the year; in the latter six months neither achieved similar heights; a significant fact in the opinion of Li Sun, the women’s team head coach.
“Wang Manyu has met some difficulties in recent times, especially in the second half of 2019. Actually, many of our top players were in the same situation at her age; with their own efforts and the help from our team, they finally overcame the difficulties and became Grand Slam winners. So I hope that Wang Manyu can pull through as well and shoulder the future of our team.” – Li Sun
Bronze in Budapest
Notably from the Halmstad line-up, Liang Jingkun is preferred to Lin Gaoyuan. Significantly, he reached the semi-final stage of the men’s singles event at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships, impressively beating Japan’s Koki Niwa and world no.1 Fan Zhendong, before losing to eventual champion Ma Long.
He has clearly provided sufficient evidence that he is attuned to the big stage and so makes his debut in the biennial tournament.
The remaining four players all appeared in Halmstad. Wang Chuqin keeps his place despite being currently suspended owing to a misdemeanour against Zhao Zihao last year on the ITTF World Tour in Austria.
Similar to Liang Jingkun, Wang Chuqin has proved he can respond. Most pertinently he won gold at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, partnered Ma Long to the men’s doubles title at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships, before securing the men’s singles title at the ITTF World Tour Swedish Open.
The results have most certainly impressed Qin Zhijian, the men’s team head coach.
“From our Olympic Strategy, Wang Chuqin partnered Ma Long to win the men’s doubles at his first World Championships. He made some breakthroughs in singles as well in the second half of 2019. As a young player, Wang Chuqin is advanced in his skill with equal ability in both singles and doubles. The coaching team values his potential and future development. He is suspended until 14th February due to his irresponsible behaviour at the Austria Open last year; with the help of our coaching team, after a hard time at military training, he has already recognised his incorrect behaviour.” Qin Zhijian
Experienced heads and consistently delivering the goods time and time again, Ma Long, Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong all sealed major titles in 2019 and they form the backbone of the men’s team.
The formula of play at a World Team Championships – six teams in each initial group stage, in contrast to the Team World Cup with three teams – gives coaches the opportunity to rest key players and test younger colleagues.
No doubt Qin Zhijian will pursue such a policy.
A debut for Liang Jingkun, it is the same in the women’s team for Sun Yingsha. She collected three women’s singles titles on the 2019 ITTF World Tour, winning in Australia, Japan and Germany, and climbed from no.29 in the women’s world ranking last April to currently occupy the no.2 position. The 19-year-old has more than merited her selection.
Somewhat differently, Zhu Yuling – bereft of a major title since succeeding at the ITTF World Tour Korea Open in July 2018 – has rather forced her way into the team by winning the recent Marvellous 12 event in Shenzhen.
Undoubtedly a disappointing year for Zhu Yuling, it was the same for Ding Ning but as an Olympic Games gold medallist and three times World champion, her experience in priceless, a fact of which Li Sun is well aware.
“As a Grand Slam winner, Ding Ning no doubt has very strong previous results and overall strength. She is very experienced. She is capable of handling stress. She is the one and only left-hander in our line-up, it is a necessary element to consider.” Li Sun
Experience is provided in abundance also by Liu Shiwen and to an increasing extent Chen Meng, the players who contested the women’s singles final at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships.
Like Ding Ning, they have proved themselves, they have both played and won major finals. Liu Shiwen, gold in Budapest and five times the winner of the Women’s World Cup; Chen Meng, successful at the last three ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in a row: the records speak volumes.
Yet another big stage awaits, a scenario that is nothing new; make no mistake Liu Shiwen and Chen Meng alongside their colleagues are more than ready.