by Ian Marshall
Cao Ningning and Guo Xingxuan combined to win men’s team class 4-5; immediately following in the women’s events, Huang Wenjuan and Mao Jingdian prevailed in class 6-8. Li Qian and Xue Juan emerged successful in class 1-3.
A 2-0 success was the victory margin for Cao Ningning and Guo Xingxuan against the Korea Republic’s Kim Junggil and Kim Younggun, the contest a repeat of the final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
On that occasion, as in Tokyo with Zhang Yan completing the line-up, under a different system (four singles and doubles to decide if needed) a 3-1 result had been the outcome. Kim Younggun remained from nine years ago when he had partnered Jung Eunchang in the final.
Patiently, waiting for the opportunity Cao Ningning and Guo Xingxuan secured the opening game (11-5, 13-11, 13-11); hard fought, the ensuing contest was even more exacting. Kim Junggil took risks and stretched Cao Ningning to the limit; a five games win was the order of the day (11-5, 8-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-4).
“The Korean team knows our strategies inside out, and vice versa. The doubles match was key for us. Whoever won the doubles creates more pressure for the other. In the past five years, we focused a lot more on training for doubles. We already started analysing the Korean team’s line-up last night. At this morning’s warm-up session, they even dedicated more time to practising doubles, so the doubles match was definitely more stressful for us. Since we lost at Rio 2016, we’ve been preparing for our battle against the Korean team.” Cao Ningning
In Rio de Janeiro, the same pairs on duty, at the semi-final stage the Korea Republic duo recorded a 2-1 win, progressing to secure gold; Cao Ningning and Guo Xingxuan experienced a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Turkey’s Abdullah Ozturk and Ali Ozturk in the bronze medal contest. They left empty handed.
“I knew I might have to play against their number one player, so I came in well prepared. Hats off to my teammate Cao who played two matches in a row; with each game he was starting to feel more tired, but he still pulled through.” Guo Xingxuan
Thus, Cao Ninging and Kim Younggun added to their medal collection in Tokyo; earlier both had won silver in the men’s singles, Cao Ningning in class 5, Kim Younggun in class 4.
Finalists in women’s singles class 8 four days earlier, when Mao Jingdian had beaten Huang Wenjuan (11-13, 11-5, 11-5, 11-9), together in women’s team class 6-8, they proved irrepressible, a step ahead of the field.
Facing the Netherlands combination of Kelly van Zon, who had earlier secured the women’s singles class 7 title and Frederique van Hoof, who had found life difficult in women’s singles class 8, not progressing beyond the group stage, Mao Jingdian and Huang Wenjuan imposed their authority from the very start.
They secured the doubles in straight games (11-2, 11-7, 11-6), before Mao Jingdian concluded matters in a similar manner when facing Frederique van Hoof (11-3, 11-2, 11-4).
“I think we prepared very well. After the line-up came out yesterday, we researched a little on the Netherlands team, and had some extra training specific to their players’ style; that’s why today’s matches went very well. I’ll give her 95 out of 100 points for her performance at Tokyo 2020. She gets nervous easily, but once she’s given some encouragement and assurance, she overcomes it and performs to the best of her ability. She has the courage of a true athlete.” Mao Jingdian
In her first Paralympic Games, Huang Wenjuan responded, being preferred in the selection to Wang Rui.
“Actually, I was very nervous before the competition started, but once I walked to the table, I told myself I had to stay strong and win today’s match. Mao is great support. Before the match, she told me: you just have to return each ball. I’ll take care of the rest.” Mao Jingdian
Success for Mao Jingdian means she has now four Paralympic Games gold medals to her credit; additional to her success in Tokyo, she won women’s singles class 8 in both London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).
Commencing in 2008 in Beijing, Li Qian and Xue Juan emerged successful for a quite incredible fourth time; they claimed the women’s team 4-5 title accounting for Korea Republic’s Lee Migyu and Yoon Jiyu in the final.
A 2-0 result was the outcome, a contest far closer than the victory margin may suggest; in the opening doubles, Li Qian and Xue Juan lost the opening two games, won the third but trailed 3-5 in the fourth. They called “time out”, recovered to level matters,eventually emerging successful in a tension packed decider by the very minimal margin (6-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-9).
Success by the narrowest of decisions, that had also been the scenario when earlier in the tournament, Xue Juan had beaten Yoon Jiyu at the quarter-final stage of women’s singles class 3 (14-12, 9-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-9). In the women’s team final, it was an equally tension packed contest, Xue Juan recovering from a two games to one deficit, eventually squealing her way to success (15-13, 2-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-7).
“We made too many mistakes in the first two games of the doubles. Most of the time, it was our opponents who attacked; we merely defended. We decided not to give up. The third game onwards, we kept encouraging each other and just attacked with all our hearts. Yoon Jiyu might be young but she’s an excellent player. I’ve played against her before and only managed to win by a small margin; that gave me some confidence, but I was still very nervous coming into today’s match. Especially in the second game I lost 2-11. I think I wanted to win too badly that I kept attacking but kept making mistakes.” Xue Juan
Hard fought success and for Xue Juan further gold in Tokyo; earlier she won women’s singles class 3 gold.