Remember Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
At the Paris Worlds, the only title the Chinese did not win is the Men's Singles title, the one with the most weight. After the national team came back, it held a three and a half day meeting to summarize the Worlds. The players first presented individual reports, and the coaches would then provide critiques for each player. Afterwards the coaches held a meeting and analyzed the pre-Worlds preparation, the training, and the actual competition. Every aspect was studied thoroughly. Our reporter interviewed the men's coaching team leader, Yin Xiao, after that series of meetings. Yin said that the biggest reason for losing the MS title was mental problems.
"We all know that the Men's Singles event is the toughest. Our team garnered 4 of the top 8 places, and that shows the our strength. We were in good shape, but in the critical matches, and at the critical points, our players had too much pressure. They played too conservatively, and some of the techniques and changes of tactics they learned were never used. That led to match losses. Typical of this is the Wang Liqin-Schlager match. From a technical level perspective, Schlager is not better than Wang. Wang was ahead in the first 6 games, but when leading 10-6 in game 6, he developed some problems mentally. Overall in the men's singles competition, the Chinese players most often lost in game 7. This shows that the execution at critical points was lacking.
"The 11-point scoring increases the randomness of the results. When two players close in level meet, it is often the mental factors that are the main determinants of results. The key points are won by whoever attacks first, whoever changes tactics first and whoever is the more aggressive. The Chinese players are not good enough in this respect.
"Last year at the Asian Games our men's team basically accomplished its goals, but our overall edge has decreased. Since then our team has been analyzing and studying the principles of the new rules, and formulated a new set of training methods. The Worlds showed that basically the training was effective. The reason why we lost the MS title was that we were focusing on techniques and tactics, and we did not work on mental training sufficiently. In the 21-point days, we had always emphasized a steady mental state and perseverance. Now, with the 11-point system in effect, we need to emphasize more the readiness to take risks and how to play with spirits. These are lacking in our training to date," Yin said.
On the match-up of Schalger versus Joo Se Hyuk, Yin feels that some element of luck was responsible for those two players meeting in the finals.
"They are not the strongest players in the world. On the other hand, there is some objective reason for them to make the finals. Schalger's serves and 3rd-ball attacks are at the same level as the Chinese, and he plays aggressively. In 11-point games, he can often seize the advantage. Wang Hao and Ma Lin lost to two choppers because firstly they did not have an upper hand against choppers in the past, and secondly because their techniques are not sufficiently all-round. An all-round superior player should be able to play against all styles. This also shows that there is life in the chopping style, Especially Joo' style, which is based on Ding Song's specialties and is further developed from that foundation. It strikes a balance between defense and offense, and the spins and placements are very tightly controlled. Not only is the offense mixed into the defense, but the ability to continuously attack is very strong in Joo's style." Yin said. He also admitted that in the last two years, his team has not paid enough attention to the chopping style.
Overall, Yin is satisfied with the performance of the young players, especially with Qiu Yike's win over Boll, which was a major blow to the Europeans. "Also, Qiu was able to stay level-headed after that big win, and played the next two matches well; that is not easy. Wang Hao, who had high hopes, was playing his first Worlds. Even though he lost in singles, he was the runner-up in men's doubles, as well as finishing third in mixed doubles. We can say they he performed his duties well, and it also shows that our incoming young players have reached a certain level. But we can also see that in big tournaments, they lack experience and there are still mental problems. For example, Wang Hao commited some errors. If his mental state was good, and his will strong, those errors were avoidable.
"Looking forward to the Olympics and the Worlds Team Competition, the failures in men's singles have sounded an alarm for the team. We can tell that competition will be even more fierce from now on. The team has to stay with the set of training methods that were developed since the Asian Games, and at the same time, increase the mental training. We did not have a special set of mental training methods for the 11-point games, and now we know we need it. Under the provision that we continue to stay at a high technical level, our mental strength is the key to recapturing our previous position," Yin said.
(Chung's notes: this is one in a series of interviews published on www.cn-tt.com.)
Reporter: What is your impression of Paris ?
Wang Hao: The cities and the weather were both good. The fans were enthusiastic, more than I expected.
Reporter: Before you left for Paris, did you set any goal for yourself?
Wang Hao: Definitely. I wanted to win a title.
R: Tell us about that match against Chen Weixing.
W: I played him once before and beat him. This time I played OK the first few games. But then when he got close, I started to get impatient. Perhaps because this was my first world event, when I got tight and impatient, I could not control myself. On the court, I did not have control of my ability to seize the opportunities.
R: Did you practice with choppers in the pre-Worlds training?
R: Tell us about your partnership with Kong Linghui.
W: This is the first time we played together. We started the partnership at the Xiamen closed training session. Kong has an all-round style and I have some special skills, so the two of us together are quite strong in our abilities to threaten and to destroy the opponents. That was why the coaches put us together. From the time we started playing, through the Worlds competition, we have been quite successful, if you look at our results. We have been perfect against our foreign opponents. From the tactical and strategic perspectives, we have our own characteristics.
R: Will you partner with Kong for the Olympics next year?
W: I think so.
R: This was the first time you played together, and you came in second. That's a very good result. Tell us about that final match.
W: Kong has won world titles and Olympic titles before, so he was more accustomed to the atmosphere in a final match. For me, since this was my first Worlds, and I lost in the men's singles, I really wanted to win the doubles championship. So I was a little impatient and rushed on the court, and I did not control my emotions well. Technically, because we are all Chinese players, we were familiar with each other's style. Wang Liqin and Yan Sen have played together for a long time, and they understood each other very well. That was why we lost.
R: What were your results in internal matches?
W: We played them several times in our internal competition. The feeling is different when we play them outside (of the internal matches). Because Wang Liqin and Yan are world champions, they are more used to the conditions in a final. I was not really accustomed to playing in the finals.
R: Does the 11-point system affect your game?
W: At this time, I have adjusted quite well, and I don't think it affects me.
R: Many people say that you are like Liu Guoliang when he was young. How do you see this?
W: I hope I can be a grand slam champion like Liu. I have my own characteristics and my own style. I will develop my game according to my style.
R: We hope that your dreams will come true.
Reporter: When you arrived at Paris, did the organization committee and the French people give you any special treatment because of SARS?
Wang Liqin: The SARS problem basically did not affect us much. Before we left for Paris, we had considered all the possible difficulties because of SARS, and we had a series of preparations. Unexpectedly, things went very smoothly after we got to France.
R: Did you come across anything fun or interesting in Paris?
W: Not really. We went to a club to train for a few days before going back to Paris.
R: This is the second Worlds men's doubles title for you and Yan Sen. Will the two of you play in the next Worlds?
W: I think so!
R: This was the first time Wang Hao and Kong played together. How were they different than Kong and Liu Guoliang?
W: They played different styles. They (Wang Hao and Kong) have not played long together, and they lacked the kind of understanding and tight fit that Kong and Liu had. This is a phase when they are getting used to each other.
R: You lost to Schlager in men' singles. Can you tell us about that match?
W: In that match I was ahead 10-6 in the 6th game. It was a regretful loss, since I did not seize the opportunity to win. I think my playing was OK, and I played up to my level.
R: Schalger performed very well at the Worlds.
W: Yes. In several matches, he had to come back to win. I was adequately prepared before the match. My coaches and teammates have discussed the tactics and strategies with me. But I still could not win even though I was ahead. I think that in balancing safety vs. aggressiveness, and in the application of strategies, I was still not good enough. I also made some unforced errors.
R: How did the team rank Schlager in the Zhengding closed training session?
W: We did not assign ranks. We listed all our opponents and we studied them.
R: What was your record against Schlager?
W: We are about the same, maybe 50-50.
R: After that loss, how did you make adjustments for the men's doubles finals the following day?
W: Actually, at noon I played the singles match, and then I played the doubles final in the afternoon. Maybe it was the next day by Beijing time. I made much better adjustments than in the past. Basically I was paying attention to the matches following. I also felt that I played to my level, so the loss did not affect my performance in doubles much. I have several years of big game experience now, so I am much better in tuning my mental conditions. Mostly I am able to do that.
R: Does the emergence of young players like Wang Hao and Qiu Yike pose a threat to the older players like you, Ma Lin and Liu Guozheng.
W: I think there is a little bit of that. Because they are improving fast, they are pushing us. But this is also a motivation, and an incentive for us to do well. I think this is good for us.
R: Did you and Yan Sen prepare a lot for Boll in doubles?
W: Yes, quite a bit. We faced them in the 3rd round. In the past they had not been easy for us, so we analyzed the situation more, and studied them in greater detail, before that match. Based on the results of the following matches, Yan and I did well. In that match, we performed at a higher level than they.
R: Are you returning to Zhengding to train?
W: I think we will go there, but not sure when.
R: Looking at this Worlds, what do you think the team is weak at?
W: I think overall we did OK, because we were always playing hard, in every match. But our performances on the court really exposed some of our problems. For example how we played the critical points, our tactics, the balance between safety and aggressiveness, etc., need improvement. We lost those matches because we lost the critical points. That indicates that we still have not grasped the effects of the new rules. Playing 11-point games, should we study how we should handle the critical points? I think we are not as good as the foreign players in this aspect.
R: Does the 11-point format affect you a lot?
W: Yes, I believe so. I did not play well in tournaments leading to the Worlds, basically because I did not understand the effects of the new rules well, and I was not able to adjust my condition properly. Through the two closed training sessions, I have slowly come to a better understanding of those things. I think I am doing better now.
R: In this Worlds, the choppers have come back. How do you see the chopping style?
W: I think the rule changes have given them new opportunities to do well. I think it is harder to do well as a chopper, but then they have their unique advantages. This time, they have done much better than before, in both techniques and variations.
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