Tension mounting, progress to the quarterfinals of the men’s event at stake, the very last match to be completed on the fifth day of action, Wednesday 5th October, at the 2022 ITTF World Team Championships Finals Chengdu presented by China Telecom, a 16-year-old held centre stage.
Felix Lebrun responded to the occasion; he beat Sam Walker in three hard fought games to give France a 3-2 win against England.
Success for a young man who is supported by the “ITTF With the Future in Mind” programme, an initiative proving its worth in Chengdu.
Likewise in the men’s event, Sweden’s Truls Möregård, Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic and Poland’s Samuel Kulczycki are backed by the project, as is Australia’s Nicholas Lum, Kazakhstan’s Alan Kurmangaliyev, Puerto Rico’s Angel Naranjo and Singapore’s Izaac Yong Quek.
Yet to face main draw opposition, Truls Möregård, remained unbeaten in the group phase of proceedings, the 20-year-old, who shares the same birthday as China’s Zhang Jike, the former Olympic and World champion, displaying the form that saw him reach the men’s singles final at the 2021 World Championships Finals in Houston.
Likewise, Darko Jorgic has been most impressive, to date just one defeat against his name; that being at the hands of Wang Chuqin in four games when facing China.
Truls Möregård and Darko Jorgic have set the standard but whatever the outcome, all have responded, a fact illustrated by Puerto Rico’s Angel Naranjo, only 18 years old, making his debut. The record reads four matches played, just one defeat! Like Darko Jorgic it was at the hands of Wang Chuqin.
Meanwhile, for the women, Nina Mittelham is proving a most valuable member of the German team. Just two defeats from her five matches to date, the most recent against Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz, an ITTF Hopes member a decade ago.
Sitting courtside in a supporting role for Germany, also a scholarship holder, has been Annett Kaufmann, the recently crowned European Youth champion, undoubtedly benefitting from the experience.
A quarter-final place for Germany, for the scholarship holders Brazil’s Bruna Takahashi, Lily Zhang of the United States and Sweden’s Linda Bergström, as well as for Egypt’s Hana Goda and Prithika Pavade of France, it is journey’s end.
Notably in the 3-1 first round defeat when facing Slovakia, Prithika Pavade was the only French winner.
Similarly, Lily Zhang and Linda Bergström could not secure a main draw place with their team, but each played six matches and experienced just one defeat!
Completing the cohort of young athletes supported by ITTF competing in Chengdu are Youth Continental Grant recipients are the USA’s Sarah Jalli and Finn Luu from Australia.
Understandably, Polona Cehovin, Director of ITTF High Performance and Development, was delighted with the progress being made by the rising generation.
“We are delighted to see that several players who have been supported through different ITTF athlete development programmes over the years are performing extremely well and playing crucial roles for their teams in Chengdu. The fundamental aim of the scholarships is to globalise competitiveness in terms of offering to select players, mostly coming from non-traditional markets, crucial support for their enhanced development. We hope that in the years to come we will see many of them on podiums of events of the highest level, they will serve as role models for the many young ones, who are coming up behind them. Motivation is certainly the key to success in sport.”
Motivation, undoubtedly just playing in such an atmosphere as a World Championships is a source of inspiration; in Chengdu the rising generation is making its presence felt.