August 4, 2001

Ma Lin, Wang Nan Victorious in International Challenge Matches

On August 4, another round of the International Challenge Series was played in China. Ma Lin scored his second win in the series by defeating J-M Saive 3-0, and Wang Nan narrowly beat Korean Ryu Ji Hae 2-1.

Ryu played an agressive attacking game against Wang, and led 18-17 in game 1. But then Wang used her serve-and-attacks to score 4 points in a row to win that game. In the second game, Wang made a lot of errors, and despite tying the game at 20-all, lost 21-23. In the deciding 3rd game, Wang was able to control Ryu's attacks with her steady forehand and backhand loops, and won 21-17.

Saive used his two-winged attacks to control Ma and was leading 18-15 in game 1. But he then missed two opportunity shots in a row, and Ma executed his 3rd ball attacks to score the next 4 consecutive points to pull out the match 21-18. Saive apparently lost confidence and quickly lost the next 2 games with identical 13-21 scores. Afterwards, Saive's coach Wang Dayong commented that Saive's mental toughness was not up to task, and also Saive was having trouble receiving Ma's serves.

The Challenge Series will resume in September.

Feng Zhe To Play in German League

Feng Zhe, member of the Shanghai Super League club, will fly to Germany on August 4 to play for the German Ochsenhausen club.

26-year-old Feng was a member of the Chinese national team and a key player for the Shanghai Edelweiss club. In March of this year, the German club contacted Feng and asked him to join them. After a series of negotiations, the two parties signed a contract in June. Feng will play one season for Ochsenhansen, but he will also represent the Shanghai team at the 9th National Games this year.

Feng said that the contract stipulated that he can no longer play for the Shanghai Super League club starting July, but he will be a member of the Shanghai team at the National Games October 11 through 20. The Shanghai team coach believes that this new opportunity is good for extending Feng's playing career and raising his level.

(Chung's Notes: This explains why Feng has not been playing in the Super League recently. The Shanghai club, co-leading the Super League, has to play Guo Jinhao and Xi Minjie in Feng's absence, and it is especially vulnerable in doubles.)

Super League Updates

On August 4, the 6th round of the Super League Phase-2 competition was played.

*Chiang Peng-Lung, playing for the Shandong Luneng club, won his 4th singles match in a row. That victory, together with Liu Guozheng's and Zhang Yong's wins, propelled the team to a team win over the weaker Henan club.

*The Leneng's women's club upset the powerful Hebei club. Former national team member Li Fun, 25 years old, was the star, beating Bai Yang 2-1, and then Niu Jianfeng 5-1 in the Golden Ball contest. Gao Zhe won her match against Wang Tingting to help the Leneng club overcome the league-leading Hebei club.

*The Shanghai club narrowly escaped with a victory over the weaker Liaoning team. Guo Jinhao won the first match, but then Xi Minjie lost the second. In the 3rd singles, world number-1 Wang Liqin carelessly lost to teenager Xu Hui 1-2 (-17, 9, -18). He then made up by winning the doubles with Guo, and revenging his loss to Xu with a Golden Ball 5-0 victory.

*Ryu Seung Min from S. Korea lost he first 2 singles matches, but then had won 3 in a row before his Sichuan club's tie against the Heilongjiang club anchored by Kong Linghui. This time he lost in singles to Wang Fei in the 1st singles. His teammate Chen Jian won the 2nd, but then Chen Junji lost to Kong, and Chen-Chen lost to Kong-Wang in doubles to lose the tie.

*The biggest upset of the day was the Beijing club being defeated by the Eastern China University club. Guo Yan, Zhang Yining, and the doubles team of Zhang and Guo all lost their matches to relatively unknow players.

*An Konishi did not do well for her Shanxi club. She was 1-1 in singles and 0-2 in doubles entering today's contest. Today she lost 0-2 to Li Nan in singles, and lost 0-2 in doubles in the match against the Tianjin club.

(Chung's Notes: The format of the Super League tie is best out of 5 matches, with the first 3 being singles, the fourth doubles, and the 5th the Golden Ball singles contest. Whoever wins 5 points first in the Golden Ball match wins. Also, in the first 4 matches, the 3rd game starts at 10-10. I also read that Wang Fei, a powerful penhold looper, will be immigrating to the USA.)

Liu Guoliang: I will develop a new penhold style

(This article, written by Liu Guoliang, appears in the August issue of Table Tennis World.)

After the Worlds, I only rested for a couple of days and went to Chengdu to play in the 9th National Games qualifying tournament. I played in the mixed doubles and men's doubles events. Wang Tao and I were champions in the last two National Games. Wang has not been training systematically, and he is still getting used to the larger ball. He is in a catch-up mode now, and although we want to win our 3rd consecutive title, this will be very difficult. Wang's techniques and physical shape are not the same as before; we have to hope that our experiences allow us to execute well.

A feature of this qualifying tournament is that there are a lot of upsets, especially in mixed doubles. Kong, Wang Kiqin, Ma Lin and Liu Guozheng were all eliminated from mixed doubles. Sun Jin and I fortunately survived, but we were down match-point 20-21 in one of the matches and very close to being eliminated. Our PLA team has high hopes for us to win the mixed doubles, so the pressure is quite high.

I did not play in the China Open in June. One reason was that I was exhausted after the Worlds and Chengdu and needed time to readjust. Another reason was that there were few foreign competitors, and Wang, Ma and Liu Guozheng should be sufficient representation for us. If Kong and I had played, perhaps Waldner would not have made it to the semifinals. Also, our younger players needed the experience to sharpen their skills. Our opponents often find it hard to do well against these unfamiliar young Chinese players.

In the past I have presented a great threat to foreign players because they were not familiar with my style. But now the threat is much less, because we have played so much, and they understand my techniques. As a matter of fact, since 1992 I have played in numerous international competitions against the top players. I am not exaggerating when I say that I play more against foreigners than I do against fellow Chinese players. Back in Jiang Jialiang's era, the fast-attack penholders seldom played outside of China, so they had a very high winning percentage at the Worlds.

After the Chengdu qualifying tournament, Kong and I participated in the opening ceremonies of the Rong Guotuan Table-Tennis School in Guangdong. Then we went back to Beijing to prepare for the Super League matches. Because the Luneng club was also training in Beijing, we had a great training environment, just like in the national team.

Now I am investigating how to develop new techniques for the penhold style. I have a model of what I should do, and I have been talking to coaches Cai and Yin. Basically I want to combine the advantages of the pips-out and the inverted surfaces to create a new style for me. Based on excellent serves, I want to integrate some of Ma Lin's techniques to strengthen my first shot. In the past, when I received serves with the pips-out side, I frequently pushed long to the corners. If I were to attack, the percentages were not really high, so it was harder to score points. If I were to loop the serves, the pips surface does not provide enough friction to generate high quality, consistent loops. In comparison, the inverted surface makes it easier to attack, and Ma has a very high serve-and-attack success percentage. I have a good serve and it is hard for the opponent to control it. If I had Ma Lin's loops against backspin, and add to that my strong sudden-attacks and my varied forehand loops, I would create a lot more chances for myself.

This may sound easy, but because the inverted surface has different requirements on speed, spin and footwork, it is very hard to integrate pips with inverted. Pips and inverted are a contradiction. If you play the inverted side more, it will hurt your pips game, and vice versa. Because the elasticity and the spin of the two surfaces are different, changing the surface during play can greatly distract the opponent, but unfortuantely also myself. That is why no one has successfully done that.

After the 45th Worlds in Malaysia I realized that I needed a breakthrough in my techniques. Back then I was only trying to increase my forehand's power, and I did not consider using inverted. Becuase the small ball is very quick, there is no time to change surface during play. Also, pips out is a greater threat with the smaller ball. Now that we are playing with the big ball, the speed is less, and the pips-out is a lesser threat. But it makes it easier to change from pips to inverted during play, because there is more time. Therefore I feel that I have the ability to come up with a more major breakthrough. If I can perfect the technique of using both surfaces, I will have the inititiative and the advantage. I plan to spend one to two years on this new technique. If my attempt is successful, this will be a major change in the penhold style.

From the perspective of techical development, if there is no new innovation in the penholder style, players like Ma Lin and I will face increasing difficulties. The reality is that the penhold style is in danger right now. Very few coaches have the courage to develop fast-attack penhold players. Of course, this is also related to the very high demands of the style. I still believe that if we can find the right talent, we can develop excellent fast-attack penholders. I think that if I can create a new path, and perhaps win a world championship in the big ball era, then people will have renewed confidence in this style, and be willing to invest in this style. If I fail, at least I have performed a worthwhile experiment for the style.

For me, I have all the titles I want to get, so fame and glory are not my highest priority. I want to revitalize the penhold style.

Table-Tennis World Editor's comments: We watched Liu practice with Ma. Liu worked on conter-looping against Ma, and he asked Ma to try his racket. He also was asking Ma to critique his loops, and had Ma demonstrate his own loops. Then I read what Liu wrote. I now realized that Liu, despite being a world champion, is humble enough to keep learning and challenging himself. I am deeply touched by his courage and his desire to blaze new trails, when he has been so heavily criticized and doubted by so many people. He has proven by his actions that he is a champion in the world of table-tennis.

(Chung's notes: Liu has always been innovative and adventurous. Those who watched Liu play against Waldner in the 1995 Worlds can see how successful he was with using the inverted side to receive Waldner's serves at the end of that match. In the latest Table-Tennis Illustrated, the ITTF magazine, there is a great article by Alan Cooke with pictures showing Liu and Waldner in action at Sydney. One can see that as soon as Waldner tossed up the ball, Liu had decided to use the inverted side to loop the serve. Liu must be extremely familiar with Waldner's serves to be able to make that kind of decisions.)


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