The ITTF adopted the 11-point scoring system on September 1, 2001, but for various reasons, the Chinese national team fell behind in its adjustment to the new system. The team started focusing on adjusting to the change during its winter training in December, and the Pro-Tour Grand Finals was a great opportunity for the team to display what it has learned.
Before the Grand Finals, coaches Yin Xiao and Li Xiaodong told reporters that this was a great opportunity to examine how the team could adapt to the new system, and that results were less important. After the tournament, the two coaches talked to reporters again, and they said that the experience of playing in the new system was the most important thing.
Yin felt that Liu Guozheng lost to Saive because Lius mental, tactical and strategical adjustments to the new system are still not mature. This was only the second time Liu played under the new system and he needs to further acclimate himself to it. On the other hand, Ma Lin and Wang Liqin have shown that they are now much more comfortable playing 11-point games. Yin observed that in mental and tactical adjustments, and in control of the tempo, those two players have made great strides. He said that Wang and Ma now could figure out how to get themselves into the rhythm of the 11-point games.
Yin said that winning the championship is a great morale boost for the team. During the winter training, the players have changed their approach to the game. Before, they paid more attention to control, but now they have develop a stronger instinct to take the initiative. "In todays (January 13) semifinal match between Wang and Saive, if Wang were to depend on controlling the over-the-table balls, he might not have been able to beat Saive. Wang took the initiative to push long and to attack first. He used the proper strategy", Yin said.
China took the top 2 places in Mens Singles, and swept the top 4 spots in Womens Singles. Coach Li Xiaodong was satisfied with his young teams performance. He said that they were still trying to figure out how to play the 11-point games, and the results were better than what they had expected, although at times he did experience a lack of confidence.
Chance plays a bigger role in the new scoring system and reduces the gap between the players. In this tournament, many of Lis players were down at match-point and had to come back to win. Li said that this is unacceptable in major events, and this also indicates that his players will face increasing challenges in the near future. Lis also believes that there is now more pressure on the coaching staff.
In this tournament, China lost both the mens and womens doubles events. The major reason was because the team focussed on singles during the winter training. But because the team showed that it had adapted to the new scoring system well, their doubles performance should improve soon
In a working meeting on January 8, 2002, the CTTA gave a summary report on the development of the sport in China in the last 5 years.
Liu Fengyan, the head of the Table-Tennis and Badminton Center, said that the last 5 years have been the fastest developing and most rewarding years in the history of Chinese table-tennis. It was also a period when breakthroughs were made in management, training, competition and structuring to align with prevailing market economics.
There were great accomplishments in the last 5 years. Now there is an infrastructure for the citizens to participate in the sport. There were 34 country-wide open tournaments in that period, with over 33,000 total entries. This also helped broaden the development of the sport in the various localities: in the year 2000 alone there were over 10 district-wide tournaments. Since 1997, there had been 5 major tournaments in the "historically-important" cities. In 2000, over 400 players and coaches from 17 provinces were invited to the national invitational tournament and to the Beijing TTA tournament.
To align with efforts to develop China's vast West, major tournaments were held in Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and Xian during the year 2000. The CTTA has also rigorously promoted the "amateur classification" system, and over 10,000 amateur players have received classification certificates. There are now 398 registered " CTTA-approved amateur" players. There is now a CTTA member system, with over 1,000 registered CTTA members and 17 member associations. Internationally, the CTTA held the China-Japan Senior Open in 1999, and it sent participants to the World Master event held in Canada in 2000. The national team has also maintained a leading position in international competitions.
In 1995 the Chinese national team completed its ascent to the top by sweeping the 7 Worlds medals. In the following 5 years, the Chinese have won 26 Worlds titles, 8 World Cup titles, 8 Olympic gold medals, 6 Asian Games gold medals, and 13 Asian Championship titles. The Chinese have now been world champions 124.5 times. Of special significance is the sweeping of all the Olympic gold medals the last two times: this is a miraculous achievement. Liu stressed that these great results were closely related to the nationalization of the sport, and the continuous research and scientific training undertaken by the players and the coaches.
In addition, the club system has developed well. Back in 1994, the CTTA proposed a dual ladder approach: the clubs and the sports schools for development of players. In 2000, the number of clubs has grown to 120, with more than 700 players. This accounts for over 80% of the countrys top players. In the Super League there are 12 mens and 12 womens clubs. In the A League, there are 16 mens and 16 womens clubs. In the B League, there are 41 mens teams and 35 womens teams. There is now a multi-level club system in place.
Liu concluded the report by stating the progress made in the development of coaches and referees.
(Chungs Notes: There was quite a bit of animated discussion on how many 2500+ players there are in China, on the rstt newsgroup. From this report, we can see that there are a little less than 900 "top" or "elite" players. These are professional full-time players. Their equivalent USA rating would probably range from 2400 (the lower-ranked women) to 2950+ . I would also guess that if a player is not a professional, it will be hard for him or her to stay at the 2500+ level. This does not answer the posed question, but should lead to more educated guesses, I hope.)
Ever since the 11-point scoring format was adopted, the Koreans have been very successful in international competition. They have won the two doubles events in the Grand Finals, and split the gold medals with the Chinese. Afterwards, Kim Taek Soo said, "In the Phusan Asian Games this year, we will really have a shot at the Chinese."
Kim apparently believes the new scoring system is a huge advantage for the Koreans. "The 11-point system has greatly increased our confidence. The games are short, and the pace quick; these fit the Korean players very well", he said. He thinks that the gap between the Chinese and the Koreans is reduced. "In the past, we perhaps won once out of every 10 times. Now things are different", he said.
Kim is very optimistic about Koreas chances in the coming Asian Games, to be held in Phusan, Korea later this year. He said that all of the Koreans preparations are aimed at the Chinese. "Because if we beat the Chinese, we are the champions", he said. For Kim, he has two major tasks. He has to defend his Mens Singles title, and he has to avenge his loss at the team semifinals in Osaka. "This is a golden opportunity; we have to treasure it", Kim said.
The new serving rule will be in effect at the Asian Games. Kim is not clear about the changes. The table-tennis insiders said that the new rules are still being discussed, and the details will not be finalized for at least another month. But definitely it will have a negative impact on the Chinese players who have excellent serves. From this perspective, Kims hopes may come true, and the Chinese will face a very severe test.
(Chungs Notes: The new rules will also make it easier for Taiwan, North Korea and Hong Kong to stage upsets against Korea. Especially Hong Kong, with Li Jing, Ko Li Chak, Cheung Yuk and Leung Chu Yan, is a major force in Asia now.)
The Mens Doubles final was very exciting, perhaps the most exciting match of the tournament. Koreans Kim Taek Soo and Oh Sang Eun finally overcame Cheung Yuk and Leung Chu Yan of Hong Kong to win the first gold medal of the Grand Finals.
Afterwards, in the press meeting, Kim appeared very excited. He said, " We are very happy to win the event. In the past we have not done well against this Hong Kong pair, so we had a heavy mental baggage before the match. Luckily, we won."
Cheung Yuk felt that they have played very poorly in the final match. "It was the first time for us to be in the finals of such an important tournament, and we were tight. Our first-3-balls were too conservative. We did not take initiatives when we should, and we did not pressure our opponents enough. They, on the other hand, played very loose and gave us a lot of pressure", he told reporters.
Finally Cheung expressed his thanks to the fans in Tianjin who gave his team such great support. "I felt like playing at home. I hope to play in Tianjin again. We will definitely win the next time", he said.
The Cheung/Leung pair was the seventh seed in the event. They beat the strong Chiang/Chang pair from Taiwan and the Karakesevic/Grujic pair from Yugoslavia to reach the finals. They have played Kim/Oh 5 times in the past, with a 4-1 record over the latter. So this time they should have the psychological edge. But they did not cash in on that edge. They were not consistent, and lost 1-4 (-11, -9, 4, -3, -9)
Hong Kong coach Chan Kwong Wah did not have harsh words for his players. He was satisfied that they did well in the first major tournament. He hoped that the pair could play more high-level competition, and he was sure that they would do even better.
The scoreboard showed 5:10. Lose one more point, and Ma Lin would be the third Chinese player, after Liu Guozheng and Ma Wenge, to be eliminated in the first round. The fans all thought that it was all over for Ma, and that the experienced Waldner would surely win this match. Some of the fans had got up and started to leave.
An offensive error by Waldner brought the score to 6:10. Ma Lin executed a 3rd ball attack to score another point. Then Ma scored an edge ball to close to 8-10. The next point saw several rally shots, and Waldner finally hitting the side of the table. For an instant the scorer flipped the score card to show 11-8 Waldner, but then the referee quickly overuled and scored it as Mas point because Waldners shot hit the side and not the edge. Waldner did not show any disagreement to the scoring decision, and the match continued. Ma then quickly scored the next 3 points to complete an amazing comeback: 12-10 in the 7th game.
Afterwards Ma Lin told reporters that he thought he was going to lose when the score was 5-10. "But perhaps I then started relaxing and did not make any more errors. When it was 8-10, I started to be hopeful. That decision by the referee probably affected Waldner a bit, but the final outcome was still in doubt. I guess I had pretty good luck after all", Ma said.
After the match Waldner appeared very disappointed. He did not talk to reporters about how he was feeling or the referees critical call. He just shook his head and said, "I had terrible luck".
Starting in September 2002, the new service rule will be in effect. There were still arguments about the details of the new rule in meetings held during the Pro-Tour Grand Finals. The voices of objection came mostly from China, with the ITTF firmly holding its ground.
CTTA President Li Furong talked with reporters about the new rule. He said that it was understandable that the ITTF wants to narrow the gap between the stronger and the weaker players. In the last 30 years, the ITTF had made several rule changes that were mainly aimed at the Chinese. But in contrast to the bigger ball and the 11-point scoring, the fairness and the practicality of the no-hidden-serve rule are questionable. He said "There are at least 2 debatable issues. First, the two biggest problems the Olympics faces are drugs and the referees/judges. The problem of referees is not resolved, and yet the new service rule greatly increases the power of the judges in the competition. This type of man-made interference has a great impact on the players. The ITTF believes that the no-hidden-service rule makes things clearer for the referees and does not increase the power of the referees. According to the new rule, both the opponent and the referee have to see the ball. This is very difficult to ascertain. The serve motion is so quick, how could anyone be sure?Some suggest using videotape to help judge. This is possible in theory, but in practice you cant stop the game to watch the tape. If there is disagreement, how could the match continue? The sport needs simple, practicable rules.
"Second, if a rule gives everyone an equal start, then it is a fair rule. But the problem is the new rule severely handicaps those players with good forehand serves, and has a small effect on those players who are used to serve with their backhand. This is a problem", Li said.
Li said that he has no problem with the principle behind the rule change. But now there are two obvious problems, and that is because the ITTF officials do not really understand the sport. The CTTA has reminded the ITTF that these two problems have to be resolved. The final decision will have to wait until the meeting of the ITTF technical committee in April.
ITTF chief Sharara stated that the new rule does not give the referees "more power", but only make it "more clear". He believes the rule makes it easy for the opponent, the judge and the spectators to see the serve. He said that many players have complained that they cannot see the serves of the Chinese. From this point of view, he supports the new rule, because everyone will be at the same starting point.
ITTFs 1st rule change: The Swaythling Cup format was changed to best out of 5 matches from best out of 9. This was aimed at the Chinese who had stronger teams overall.
ITTFs 2nd rule change: The 2-color rule. It was aimed at Chinese players such as Cai Zhenhua.
ITTFs 3rd rule change: Change the ball size to 40 mm.
ITTFs 4th rule change: 11-point scoring format.
ITTFs 5th rule change: No hidden serves, effective September 1, 2002.
(Chungs Notes: This article was written from the Chinese perspective. There were also racket coverings rule changes that had huge impacts mainly on Chinese players. On the other hand, many Europeans will also be adversely affected by the no-hidden-serve rule. The issue of fairness that Li brought up is interesting: the rule does favor players who use backhand serves and punishes those who use forehand serves exclusively. The rule also is more of a disadvantage to penholders than to shakehanders.)
On January 18, the Swedish national team announced that Persson has decided to rejoin the national team to play in this years European Championship to be held in Zagreb, Croatia from March 30 through April 8. Persson had previously announced that he had played his last team match for Sweden in Osaka, but he later changed his mind and said that he wanted to compete in the Paris Worlds. He will join Waldner, Karlsson, Hakansson, Molin and Lunqvist in the national team.
On January 9, 2002, the CTTA announced in a national meeting that it will take disciplinary action against Beijing team member Zhang Yining for her misconduct during the WS finals match of the 9th National Games. This is done to educate the individual player in question and warn others, and is a severe punishment.
Zhang will be forbidden to play internationally for the next 3 months. She will give a critical account of herself within the team, and will publicly apologize in the "Table Tennis World" magazine.
During the 9th National Games, in the Mixed Doubles 8ths, Zhang repeatedly kicked the table, and even threw her racket on the table. She was warned twice by the referee. During the WS finals, she appeared to have given up in the last game when she fell behind to Wang Nan. When Wang Nan served the last point, Zhang did not attempt to receive the service. Li Furong, who was in attendance, was very angry about this behavior. He said that this has never happened in the 40 years of Chinese table-tennis.
Zhang Yining is the number 2 player on the strong Chinese womens team. Hopefully Zhang can learn from this make and become more mature.
Zhangs public apology (Chungs Notes: This came out on January 17, 2002):
"In the recent 9th National Games, I did not show good fighting spirits. Not only did I give our fans a bad impression, I also let my teammates and my coaches down. Now my heart is heavy. I know that just saying "Im sorry" is not sufficient. I have to closely examine my own behavior, and I hope that you can all help me correct my mistake.
"The National Games had exposed the problems I have in thinking. Particularly in the Womens Singles finals, I had showed no desire to win: I lost the match and I also lost as a person. Looking back, this was not an accident; it is the result of letting problems lie unsolved for a long time. I had not interact sufficiently with my teammates, and I placed myself at too high a level. Sometimes I did not listen to my coaches reminding me, and thought that I could take care of these problems and failed to see my many shortcomings.
"I was blinded by complacency. In matches I had a huge ego, and I wanted to play pretty and win pretty. The results were opposite. I could not face defeats, and I did not conduct myself with class.
"The Chinese national team has a glorious tradition: we place the country above the individual. As a member, I have failed. My behavior during the 9th National Games was due to my belief that I was very strong: I did not place myself correctly. I thought too much of myself, and not enough of my team. In my career to date, every step I took and every success I had were closely linked to strong efforts by my coaches and my teammates. My coaches have given me many opportunities to compete in important events, and that shows that they hope that I can develop and grow up quickly. Without my teammates help and support, I could never have had such a smooth path. But in the National Games, I forgot it all. I only saw that I was the number-one player on the team, but I did not subject myself to the standards befitting a number-one player. When I faced problems, I did not try to solve them, but just let myself give up. If this were a world-class event, the consequences would have been unimaginable. It is too scary for me to think back.
"This is a deep and painful lesson for me. Now I understand things better, and I realize the severity of my problems. I will place high demands on myself in training, competition, and in life. I will be truly a member of the team. I hope that my leaders, coaches and my teammates can criticize me, help me, and guide me."
(Chung's Notes: Kicking the table and giving up in a match when being way behind are nothing serious outside of China. This incident must seem like an over-reaction to those outside of China. But discipline is a key reason why the Chinese are so successful as a team, and a lack of discipline was a main reason why China did so poorly from 1989 to 1991. I read that Belgian coach Wang Dayong and the Belgian TTA were sued by a Belgain national team member because that member did not get enough opportunities to play. That must seem like something out of the Twilight Zone, from the Chinese players' perspective. By the way, that Belgian player lost his case.)
Photos from the Grand Finals here. One of the new faces is Li Jia. The long-haired left-handed player on the Hong Kong doubles team is Cheung Yuk, and the penholder is Leung Chu Yan. Cheung was a teammate of Ma Lin and Liu Guozheng in the Shantao table-tennis school.
There are 2 photos in this discussion thread. The top one show Ma Lin at the Grand Finals. The bottom one is an ad for the new Stiga V1 blade. Looks like that may be the blade Ma Lin has switched to.
Teenagers Bai Yang and Guo Yan
Boll and Fejer_Konnerth
Double-Happiness was selected to supply some of the equipment for the next Worlds and the 28th Olympics. The next Worlds will use the "rainbow" table made by DHS. Here are some pictures from the announcement, including one showing Sharara in action against Wang Liqin.
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