The 47th World Championship ended amid great applause. The Chinese team brought back 4 trophies, as well as much regret. The Swaythling Cup that the team took to Paris went to the Austrians. We interviewed Kong on a bright morning after he came back to Beijing, and we talked about the Worlds.
Reporter: Before the tournament, most people pinned their hopes on Ma Lin and Wang Hao. Did that affect you?
Kong: I don't think the way I play depends on what people think of my chances. Many were favored, but there is only one champion. Probably no one thought much of Schlager before the tournament, but results often are not what we expected. In the past, the favorites in major tournaments seldom came through, and that could be due to pressure. I was not affected by how people thought my chances were.
R: In men's singles, 4 Chinese players were in the final 8. When Ma, Wang Hao were eliminated, and Wang Liqin lost after 7 tough games, the hopes of the team rested on your shoulders. Did you feel that suddenly there was a lot of pressure?
K: At the time the pressure was not that big. I always think that the singles event is a test of how well a player performs on his own. I will not relax just because there are more Chinese players, and I will not get nervous because everyone else was a foreign player. So I did not give myself too much pressure. I only told myself to play every match carefully and well.
R: What was your record against Schlager?
K: I played him before, in big tournaments like the Olympics, Worlds, and the World Cup. Basically I had not lost to him before, although the matches were not easy.
R: Please tell us about your match against Schlager.
K: That was an exciting match. With the game score tied at 1-1, the 3rd game was crucial. I was ahead 7-3, and if I could have won that game, the situation would be totally different. In the 4th game, I opened poorly, and I was impatient. I fell behind 0-4, but pulled to a 5-5 tie. But I still lost that game. Now that I was trailing 1-3, my back was against the wall the rest of the way. After I won the next two, the final game was fiercely contested. I was behind 3-7, then pulled even, and then got a lead at 12-11. That match point was very critical. Because I did not serve well, and the serve was a little high, Schlager flipped it. If that serve was like the earlier ones, with a lower trajectory, I basically would have won that point. In the last game, I was very successful with my spin/no-spin serves. Looking back, I lost because I did not serve well at that point.
R: How did you feel after the last point of the match was played?
K: I hit the ball long and lost the last point. Everyone was cheering for Schlager, and of course I felt bad. I think everyone would feel bad in that situation. The match was so tight, and I had a chance to win, so definitely it was not a good feeling.
R: After Liu Guoliang retired, the golden doubles partnership came to an end. This time in Paris you and Wang Hao came in second. Looking at how you match up with them, what are the differences between Liu and Wang?
K: If you look at our results, we have done quite well. Liu and Wang play differently. Liu uses pips-out rubber, and he plays close to the table. His strength is serving and returning serves, but he also has more limitations and could only play close to the table. Wang is more balanced in offense and defense, and his backhand is his specialty: similar to the shakehand style, but even better with the short balls. His short flips have spin. Wang can cover a larger area, but from an experience standpoint, Liu is superior. I played with Liu from 1996 until 2001; that was a long time. We won an Olympic gold medal after the first 6 months. With Wang, we won a silver medal after a little more than a month of practice, so we did OK. Of course Liu and I matched up better since we played so long together, but I think after a while Wang Hao and I will improve.
R: How do you look at our training against choppers?
K: The main thing is that our own choppers are quite a bit behind Joo's level. Hou Yingchao uses pips-out on his backhand, and the foreign choppers use long-pips. There is no long-pips chopper on the first national team; we only have a very young player in the second team who uses long pips, and his skills are quite different than Joo's. When we trained, we could not work at a high enough level to prepare us for tournaments, so we had difficulties in real matches. I think players like Wang Hao do worse against choppers than attackers, and their tactics are not very appropriate.
R: Is your new rubber the same as Ma Lin's?
K: Not Ma Lin's. He uses the old 999, and he has been gluing the top sheet on the sponge for a long time. We use different thickness sponges.
R: Why did you change to new equipment?
K: The main reason is that I feel more comfortable with the old 999 than the new 999. I still like the old ones, so coach Xiao Zhan got me some from local coaches.
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