by Simon Daish
A debt to settle
Making her Asian Cup debut four years earlier at the 2015 event in Jaipur, there were high hopes surrounding Zhu Yuling. Yet another young player from China was set to show her skills to the world.
One of two Chinese players present in the women’s singles draw, China expected to see both of its representatives meet in the final. Liu Shiwen made the final two, Zhu did not. Passive in her approach, Zhu finished second in her group and was forced to settle for bronze in the Indian city. Singapore’s Feng Tianwei, who beat Zhu, went on to reach the top step of the podium!
Disappointment for China, especially for Zhu who hadn’t delivered anywhere near her best. She made it her mission to make up for the outcome. It’s safe to say that she has more than lived up to the challenge.
Finding her stride
Not present at 2016 Asian Cup, Zhu returned in 2017 with confidence on her side having received a runner up medal earlier in the year at the 2017 World Championships.
Once again, Zhu made her way to the semi-finals but this time she didn’t disappoint, claiming victory over Miu Hirano to reach the final in Ahmedabad. Zhu had outperformed her result from two years earlier – a sigh of relief. One round later she met Liu Shiwen, producing an outstanding performance to steal the title away from the defending champion to put the gremlins of Jaipur 2015 behind her for good.
Simply unstoppable in Ahmedabad and one year later at the 2018 Asian Cup in Yokohama the Chinese star replicated the feat, cruising past fellow compatriot Chen Meng to make it back-to-back titles. Zhu had found the secret to Asian Cup success and now she had her sights set on the history books!
Back in Yokohama for the 2019 edition of the Asian Cup, Zhu dropped just a single game across her three group stage encounters before progressing to beat Miu Hirano and her nemesis from Jaipur 2015, Feng Tianwei! Zhu was close to an unimaginable third consecutive title success but to make that dream a reality she would have to replicate the result of the previous year as she met Chen Meng in the gold medal contest yet again.
A tense start saw very little between the two finalists but it looked to be heading in the direction of Chen only for Zhu to save a combined total of three game points to take the early lead for herself. Keen to make past amends Chen responded straight away to level the scores once again but it was not to be as Zhu picked up three of the following four games to complete a convincing 4-1 victory (15-13, 4-11, 11-5, 11-8, 7-11, 11-6).
“I did not expect that I could win three in a row… It was a very close match. We have played against each other for over nine years. We are very, very familiar with each other. I won the match today, I feel very tired now.” Zhu Yuling
The very same event she had endured a painful introduction to back in 2015, Zhu had now gone on to become the first player to win the cup three years in a row! Life works in strange ways, but then again that’s something we’ve very much come accustom to with Zhu.
Cheeky but incredibly bright
At the 2010 World Junior Championships in Bratislava, Zhu suffered defeat at the hands of Kasumi Ishikawa in the girls’ team final but then went on to beat the Japanese star 4-0 in the girls’ singles final!
A huge turn in form from Zhu on that occasion and we’ve witnessed something similar over the past couple of years. Taking home women’s singles gold at the 2018 ITTF World Tour Korea Open, Zhu hasn’t been able to replicate that result on the World Tour since that date. However, come January 2019 Zhu demonstrated her ruthless side again, outperforming expectations to win the Marvellous 12. A few months later she would go on to lift the Asian Cup but later would endure opening round exits at three World Tour events.
While she may be the most consistent of players, Zhu is certainly a daring yet intelligent competitor who always keeps you on your toes!
“Zhu Yuling is a little “cheeky”; sometimes she will turn the question on the interviewer, especially when a poor question. She will reply “well, what do you think” or something similar. She is bright and accepted through an interpreter, she can give a “fast answer”. She’ll put the interviewer on the spot!” Ian Marshall, ITTF Editor