by Kabir Nagpal
It was a day for the history books in Chengdu as Liu Shiwen set an all-time record of five Women’s World Cup titles after winning a pulsating final against fellow Chinese superstar Zhu Yuling.
Seeded no.2, she came into the final after ending the amazing run of Breakthrough Star of Year, Lily Zhang from the United States, in the semi-finals (11-6, 11-1, 11-5, 11-5). Meanwhile, Zhu Yuling had overcome the challenge of Singapore’s Feng Tianwei (11-1, 11-13, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-5).
It was a final full of six exciting games between the two Asian women, neither of whom looked like slowing down as the match progressed. In fact, it was Zhu who started stronger in the final as it looked like the weight of potentially making history on Liu’s shoulders was taking its toll.
An epic battle ensued shortly after the second game started, with Liu securing an 11-8 recovery win before gaining the lead for the first time with another 11-8 win.
Rally after gripping rally, both players showed power and pinpoint accuracy in their shots with no margin for error. Liu finally started to identify chinks in her opponent’s armour and capitalised by clinching three games in a row to take control of the match.
Zhu threatened a fightback when she won 11-3 in the fifth game but Liu held her nerve in the sixth to seal the victory and spark wild celebrations among her thousands of fans who flocked to the Sichuan Province Gymnasium in Chengdu.
Securing the Women’s World Cup title in 2019 made it a record five times for Liu Shiwen – previously she had succeeded in 2009 in Guangzhou, 2012 in Huangshi, the following year in Kobe, before emerging victorious in 2015 in Sendai.
Moreover, Liu became the most successful player ever in the history of the tournament that dates back to 1996 in Hong Kong. She moved one ahead of compatriot Zhang Yining who won in 2001 in Wuhu and 2002 in Singapore, prior to succeeding again in consecutive years, in 2004 in Xiaoshan and in 2005 in Guangzhou.
The eventual 4-2 (4-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-6, 3-11, 11-9) win meant that Liu – who won the World Championships women’s singles title in Budapest in April 2019 – had secured the two most prestigious women’s titles in one year. Also this meant that if and when Tokyo 2021 arrives, she has the potential to be crowned a Golden Grand Slam champion – the greatest possible achievement in the sport.
“I was much younger the last four times that I won the World Cup; this World Cup is the last one before Tokyo 2020, so this title is very special to me. Today’s match was really tough and close. I am very happy that I did not give up and still tried my best even when I met some difficulties during the match.” Liu Shiwen