July 9, 2001

Ma Lin Defeats Persson In Challenge Match

On July 7, the sixth match of the International Challenge Series was played in Jiangsu province, and Ma Lin scored a close victory over Swedish star Persson. In the earlier women's contest, Chinese Li Nan easily beat the young Swedish Johansson 2-0.

So China leads 4-2 in the series over the international stars from the rest of the world.

Before this match, Ma has played Persson 4 times, and the scores were even at 2-2. Both players approached this match carefully. Persson said that Ma's game is on the rise, and since he himself has not been training systematically since the Worlds, his condition is only average.

Persson used his world-class backhand loops and jabs to control Ma's 3rd ball attacks. He won the first game 21-15. The second and third games were very close, with the scores tight all the way. Ma appeared to be taking a stronger initiative, and with the help of several lucky shots, won 22-20 and 23-21. Persson now seemed to rush his game, and changed his controlling strategy. He made errors with his forehand attacks, and even though he tied the score at 19-all, ended up losing the 4th 19-21.

The series will now move to Tianjin, where World Mixed-Doubles champion Qin Zhijiang will face Korean Kim Taek Soo on July 14. China's Sun Jin will play Japan's An Konishi in the early match.

Click here to see photos of Persson in action in Jiangsu. Here are some more photos taken during practice.

A China-Korea Rematch

The China-Korea semifinal contest in Osaka was considered the classic, and no doubt has left deep impressions in the minds of the fans. According to a statistical source, there were more than 100 people who were rushed to the hospitals because of heart attacks resulting from watching that match.

A Beijing company and a Shanxi company have joined forces to sponsor a rematch of the two teams. The player-matchups will be identical to those in Osaka, and the rematch will be held in September in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi province.

Kong Linghui: A Better Tomorrow

(Translated from the July edition of Table Tennis World. This was excerpted from the notes of the summary meeting after the Osaka Worlds.)

Kong's self critique:

My condition was a little poor.

I did not play very well in the Worlds. Especially in the Korea semifinal match. I played very tight, and I lost 2 points. That put a lot of pressure on my teammates.

In the closed training in Zhengding, I was never in the best shape. After changing to the bigger ball, I had to make adjustment to my racket, and I never could find one that I was satisfied with. Also, I was still bothered by my shoulder injury, so the training was not very effective.

During competition, I had problems in executing my techniques. The main manifestation is that my first-3-balls and my serve receives lack variation. Especially during the team matches, I did not handle the short balls well. I did not find my feelings until the individual events started. I played mostly cross-court shots and few down-the-line shots. My energy and my stamina were also lacking.

There are very few important tournaments in the next few months. I should have plenty of time to train systematically to achieve better results.

Teammates' critiques:

Liu Guoliang:

Kong did not play badly at the Worlds. After the ball change, he has overcome equipment problems and his injuries, and achieved good results at the Worlds. I should say that he played better in competition than in Zhengding. In singles he beat many strong opponents. In the team event, his adjustment to the big ball was still not very good. If he were to play the individual events before teams, he would not have lost. After losing the two points against Korea, he still was able to get good results in singles, and we can see that Kong's ability to recover from difficulties is stronger than the younger players. I believe that next year you will play even better.

Coaches' critiques:

Yin Shao:

Before the Worlds, the coaches' plan was to have you and Liu Guoliang as the nucleus of the team. Now we see that in mental preparation and in techniques the two of you have helped the team a lot. You have contributed to our Swaythling Cup victory. Even though there were some problems near the end of the teams event, we made the proper adjustments. Liu Guoliang, despite his relative few appearances, has helped us plan our strategy, and contributed to the cohesiveness of our team.

You have summarized your techniques in detail. You were a little slow in adjusting to the big ball. During the closed training, because of your racket and your injury, we felt that you did not put in sufficient training time, and therefore you did not achieve the expected results. In Osaka, you were making adjustments while playing, so it was natural for you to have some difficulties. But you were able to persevere; that tells us that you are a fine athlete. Your first-3-balls and serve receives were monotonous. Your long pushes were good, but they were not effective against the Koreans. For example, against Oh Sang Eun, if you were playing with the small ball, he would not have been able to do much with your long pushes. But now he could loop those. During the singles, you started to play the short balls well, and you were flipping much better. You were unable to attack strongly once your serves were controlled by your opponents, so you did not apply sufficient pressure. But against Samsonov, your serve and attack game was working very well.

Your energy and your stamina were lacking. In your match against Wang Liqin, we could see the differences between Wang and you. This was perhaps related to your age and your injuries. But at 26, you should be at your best. You have played so much and won so many titles, I guess we should call you a "young senior athlete".

Shi Zhihao:

You were the core of our team during the Worlds. During the matches, you were making continuous adjustments, and you found your game from the competition. I want to warn you here: you were too picky on your racket, and you always were looking for the perfect racket. In reality, nothing is perfect.

Techniques-wise, you lacked variety in your first-3-shots. Also, you depended too much on your backhand; your forehand was not as good as before. Your forehand should be your strength. Maybe you still lack confidence playing the big ball, but I think you should receive serves with your forehand more.

Han Hua:

The training in Zhengding was relatively ineffective for you, and maybe that was why you lacked confidence. But it was not easy playing as well as you did. You faced a lot of left-handed opponents, and you lacked decisiveness in service returns. But you were definitely better in the later stages. You lacked power, and your style was too straightforward. You did not change the attack lines, and the placements were not great. Against the ferocious-style opponents, you typically played well in the first 2 games, but then when they stepped up the attack in the 3rd game, you started to fall behind in your strategies. When they attacked fiercely, you were always trying to move them side to side. You did not consider carefully whether to play fierce-against-fierce, or to limit the opponents with placements. You had that problem in playing Ma Lin and Wang Liqin.

You have accomplished a lot. From losing 2 points against Korea to getting the singles finals, these are very valuable experiences to learn from.

Wu Jinping:

Before the tournament, we worried about you, but we also had faith in you. In the team match against Germany, you beat Rosskopf and Boll, and fulfilled your responsibilities as a nucleus member. Against Korea, even though you lost 2 points, that did not affect your performances later. You were playing better and better; that was a very difficult thing to do.

In serve returns, your backhand deep pushes were not very effective. Your short returns and your long pushes should be better integrated; that was obvious in your match against Oh. Also, how to counter loop strongly on backhand is a new problem in the big-ball era. The big ball is slower, and if you could not apply force, then your opponent can overpower your shots. You have to combine speed with power. Your speed and power are less with the big ball, and you often started the attack, but then ended up rallying (instead of dominating the attacks). You seldom put your body weight behind your shots, like Wang Liqin does so well. The new service rules, however, will help you.

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