(This article appeared on the CTTA website)
Summarizing after every major tournament and then learning from the summary is a routine task for the Chinese team. Even though the team swept all seven events, coach Yin Xiao still feels that there are a lot of inadequacies in the team. He held the men's team summary meeting.
Kong's weaknesses are obvious
Kong won 2nd place in Men's Singles, and beat Samsonov, but Yin thinks that in this Worlds, Kong has exposed his weaknesses. If Kong could not improve on those, the results would be serious.
Yin pointed out that in the big ball era, Kong's biggest problems are that he lacked power, speed and physical strength. Yin felt that the two points Kong lost in the Korea match were not accidental, especially the one to Oh. In that match, Kong's speed and power were clearly not as good as Oh's, and the match was controlled by Oh. Samsonov, on the other hand, also plays the steady style with less explosive power, and therefore did not present as much challenge to Kong.
Kong has a relatively small swing, and could not use all the power from his body. Yin believes that the next step for Kong is to improve arm strength, and to increase the explosiveness of his shots.
Liu Guoliang: What's next?
Liu Guoliang was the most disappointed player in this Worlds. The ball got bigger, the covering was changed, and now the serves will be limited. Liu is facing all these problems, and many people worry about Liu's next step. In the meeting, Liu prepared the most detailed and the most serious summary. He spoke first: "In this tournament I did not play particularly well. But I want to emphasize that I will not retire or give up. I believe, through hard work, I will make improvements". For Liu Guoliang, Yin and the other players share the same feeling. Yin said: "It is not easy for Liu. We should all learn from his never-give-up, never-accept-a-loss spirit. The team will not consider letting him retire at this time; we will work together". But on the issue of which direction for Liu to take, neither Yin or Liu himself has a clear idea. Yin feels that it is not that Liu's techniques are not good, but that the equipment and rule changes are limiting him. "It would be hard for Liu to come up with breakthroughs in techniques. We have to explore things in our subsequent training".
Ma Lin and Liu Guozheng still need refinement
Ma and Liu Guozheng have made a big splash in this Worlds, making great contributions to the winning of the team title. Yin feels that through this experience, Ma and Liu have matured, and are ready to play a major role in teams. But they both faced a serious probelm: the new service rule will have a major impact on their games. Ma and Liu are good with their serves and 3rd-ball-attack. Many foreign opponents have trouble with Ma's serves because Ma hides the contact point well. If he could not do that, then he would be less dangerous to these opponents.
So from now on, the two players have to solve the service problem, and increase their own ability to stay ahead of the change.
Wang finally getting his reward
Because of civic activities, Wang could not make the meeting. But on the subject of Wang, Yin's first words were: "He finally won". His teammates' first words were : "It is time for him to win". Yin said: "After the increase in ball size, Wang has the best set of conditions, and we had very high hopes on him. But after he lost to Boll in teams, we started to worry that he might not be able to handle the pressure. So, for safety's sake, we did not play Wang anymore in teams, because the Swaythling Cup is too important to us. In Men's Singles, Wang faced the toughest opponents, and we were saying that if Wang could come through, that would be a sign that he had matured. In the final match, the first two games shocked all of us coaches in the spectator seats. But without a coach, Wang was still able to adjust his game and come back to win. That is more meaningful than the gold medal. Wang does not have any problems with techniques".
At the end, Yin said that the men's team has achieved good results, but it cannot relax. Although older players like Waldner are not playing well, the new Europeans have emerged and will be a threat. The Europe-Asia balance will continue.
There have been many reports during the Worlds that Singapore's Li Jiawei and Chinese Taipei's Chiang Peng-Lung will be playing for the Luneng club in the Chinese Super League. We spoke to Luneng's manager.
He first explained Li Jiawei's situation. "According to CTTA rules, every club can get a foreign male and female player, and there are no limits on the number of Chinese players. But there are only so many top players in China, and they all are already playing for some teams. So we started looking outside of the country. There are no more problems with Li joining our team, the contract has been agreed on, and CTTA has approved. This means Li will fill Qiao Hong's position, and has other implications, too".
Chiang's case is not as straightforward as Li's. He explained: "At the Worlds, the Luneng club and Chiang have signed a work agreement. So there are no more problems between the two sides. The club has sent in a report to CTTA, and we are waiting for approval. But because of the special circumstances and complexities, it may take a while. For example, the CTTA may ask the Sports Ministry to make a decision". The reporter asked why was Chiang picked instead of other top players, and he explained: "We went with Chiang because both sides want to do this, and also because of Chiang's market potential. Of course whether this will be a success we have to wait and see. But based on our experience with getting Liu Guozheng, I think that this is the right path. Now we will not give up Liu even if other clubs would pay more money for him. Simialrly, we believe Chiang's value will appreciate".
(Chung's Notes: Getting a foreign table tennis to play in the Chinese Super League is a bold step. This signifies that the clubs are very interested in promoting the league, and internationalizing it. Chiang will be a teammate of Liu Guozheng, his nemesis. It will be interesting to see if this will help Chiang gain confidence in playing the Chinese top players. I believe it will. Chiang needs this very competitive environment to move up to the next level; he already plays very well against the Europeans. The Luneng team is tied for first place with the Shanghai club (Wang Liqin plays there) after the first half of the season. Liu Guozheng's teammates are Zhang Yong and Guo Keli. Yin Xiao was the club coach before he rejoined the national team late last year. The second half starts in June. Luneng will also be playing in the World Club Championships in Macau at the end of May.)
After the Worlds, we held a summary meeting on May 9. On May 10, we met with our nation's leaders. We will now all go back to our own province to train for the 9th National Games, with the qualifying rounds starting on May 19. Our team (Heilongjiang) has a high ranking, so we are already qualified, and I am also qualified for the singles. But I need to qualify for men's doubles and mixed doubles.
Before we left for Osaka, my clear goal was to win back the Swaythling Cup. I did not think much about the other events, because I had not played much intentionally with the big ball, and I did not understand the opponents well. My condition was average in teams, and I lost 2 points in the Korea semifinals. I was not very assertive with my skills, and did not play precisely enough. After missing a few shots, I started to lose confidence. I played Kim Taek Soo many times in the past, and we know each other very well. Usually I cannot win a point with a single shot; I often tried to transition to the rallying, counter-looping phase. I feel the big ball is very different. With the small ball, I had the advantage, but with the big ball, he now has the upper hand. I lost 7 or 8 out of 10 rallies against Kim. How to play the Koreans is a serious subject for me, from now on. In the singles final, I won the first 2 games rather comfortably, but I lost my concentration when I had the lead in the 3rd. In the 5th, there were some accidental balls, and I missed on two semi-high kill-shots. I rushed a little and made more errors. Wang Liqin played very well in the last 3 games. He changed his tactics, and I could not adjust. In men's doubles, we lost 0-3. Liu Guoliang's speed is noticeably slower with his new rubber. The foreign opponents might not sense it, but our teammates picked that up right away. To make the finals in those two events is beyond my expectatiions.
I have read "reports" that Liu Guolaing and I have plans to retire. I don't know how the reporters came up with such conclusions. If I lost really badly, maybe there is reason to speculate, but I did not play that poorly. Getting 2nd place in two events means that I can adjust to the big ball. So why would I retire? The new service rule will not have a big impact on me; I do not rely on serves, and I serve backhand a lot. Liu Guoliang and others like Waldner will be affected more, but that will be a common challenge for a lot of top players. Besides, we still are not clear about the new rules. Liu and I will not easily retire. We are not the type who walk away from difficult challenges.
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