Athens 2004


August 19, 2004


History Did Not Repeat Itself


(Translated from an article written by chief editor of Table Tennis World.)


At Sydney in the round of 16, Wang Nan could not shake off Li Jia Wei, and played in a passive mode. When Wang was behind in games 1-2, and in game score 16-20, and when everyone thought that it was over, Li turned conservative. Wang Nan won that match 3-2.


At Athens in 2004, in the women¡¯s singles quarter-finals, Li¡¯s speed controlled Wang. Wang was behind 0-2 in games and trailing 0-7 in game 3. She came back and won that game. We all thought that history would repeat itself.


¡°At that time I kept thinking of Sydney. I would not make the same mistake. I kept believing that I would win¡±, Li said after the match.


¡°Now I have lost a little bit of confidence when I am at the table¡±, Wang told us in July, during the closed training sessions. Perhaps that was why history did not repeat itself.


Being a core member of the national team and a two-time gold medalist at Sydney, Wang Nan wants very much to finish her career on a prefect note, and she faces much greater pressure than Li does. During the two closed training sessions, Wang worked very hard. Even coach Cai helped her in the practice. She knew that everyone had high hopes for her.


But pressure does not always turn into motivation. ¡°At the Olympics, ability is just one component. The more important component is the mental strength, including the will to win on the court and a firm execution¡±, Singapore¡¯s new coach Shi, who is a former coach of the Shanghai team, said. ¡°In this match, Li had the better mental position: she was the fighter. She had to fight hard to play at her normal level. Strategically and tactically, Li¡¯s strength over Wang is her speed. Wang plays a little slower, and a little softer¡±, Shi said.


After the match Cai Zhenhua said that Li executed very well. Wang Nan was not quite used to Li¡¯s forehand pips, and could not control her spin. When Wang attacked, Li was able to block. The added mental pressure made it hard for Wang to quickly adjust her game.


Because of her mental advantage, Li played to her full ability. She led from the very beginning, and had better spirits. In contrast, even though Wang had beat Li before, she were always struggling in those wins. Now she really did not have any advantage over Li. Even though she came back from 0-7 to win a game, she was not confident about the match.


Looking at the whole match, Wang did not play well, but also Li is much improved. Li¡¯s strategy was very sound. Against an experienced top player like Wang, she kept things really simple: she would serve to the slightly left of center of Wang¡¯s table. Whenever Wang¡¯s return is off table, she would loop it.


¡°Even though I have lost to Wang Nan before, I am not afraid to play against her style. My style matches up well against hers¡±, Li said. She felt that the key to the match was winning game 4. ¡°At Sydney I lost to Wang Nan because I was too impatient. This time when I had the lead, I told myself to not rush it. I still had to fight for it. After she came back to win game 3 from 0-7 down, I was very calm in that game 4. I felt that I had the ability to beat her¡±, she said.


We should also mention that at the US Open last month, the 23-year-old from Beijing beat Kim Kyung Ah and Boros to win her first-ever Pro-Tour title. That was a good omen for her. At that time, she was calm about her success, and said that she would not turn that victory into a mental baggage. ¡°If I have a good draw and if luck is with me, I have a chance in both singles and doubles at the Olympics¡±, she said back then.


Wang Tao¡¯s Comments on Doubles Upset


(From Wang Tao¡¯s Daily Column)


Last night we all saw Kong and Wang Hao losing to Waldner and Persson. That was a surprising result. Even though the game scores were close, our players could not control the opponents, and did not handle the critical shots well.


Coach Cai and I were together chatting during that match. We both applauded the excellent performance of the Swedes. After the match, Cai was still relaxed, and said that the opponents played too well for us to win. He said that looking at this in a different way, we could only have one pair in the finals anyway, so we might as well learn something from this loss.


There were many angles to look at this match. How did the Chinese lose? Perhaps you would get 100 different answers from one hundred spectators. My answer is that there is no ¡°main character¡± in the Kong/Wang pair. They were not playing together as a team. Compared to the opponents, they were weaker in the rallies, and did not play the critical shots well. In the latter part of the match, Kong turned very conservative. He played as if his hands were tied. Wang, on the other hand, was too impatient, and attacked when the opportunities were not really there. They were not playing together. This lack of experience directly led to the loss. If you calmly look at the Swedes¡¯ performance, you will notice the subtle differences.


I don¡¯t like to mention our previous successes, but we could learn from history. When I partnered with Lu Lin, we beat Waldner/Persson three times in important matches. Our approach back then was this:  I was the ¡°boss¡±, and we played according to my style. Lu Lin would try to fit my style. Later, in the Kong/Liu pair, Kong would also try to fit Liu¡¯s style and give up some of his own individual characteristics. Not too many people know about this approach, but it is a very effective one in doubles. Looking at the Persson-Waldner partnership, Persson was the one trying to fit Waldner¡¯s style.


There must be one boss on the court. One who decides how to play the points and controls the outcome. If the two players were too even, or if one does not follow the other, we end up with one plus one being less than two. That would be a cruel result, and the loss yesterday was a severe example.

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