Athens 2004

August 23, 2004


Critiques of the Gold Medal Match


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


August 23. The Chinese dream of sweeping the table-tennis gold medals for the 3rd consecutive time was shattered by Korean player Ryu Seung Min. When he won the first game 11-3 in only two minutes, he had claimed the higher ground in this supposedly even match. In the next 5 games, Wang struggled to win two, but he was at a defensive position both in spirits and in mental state. He was not as decisive in his execution as his opponent, and all the three games he lost later were by only 2 points.


The fact is that Ryu Seung Min had been the focus of the Chinese preparation in the two closed training sessions. At the Pro-Tour Finals over two years ago in Tianjin, the ferocious but unrefined Ryu was beaten badly by Chiang Peng-Lung. After the polishing by two penholders Yoo Nam Kyu and Kim Taek Soo, Ryu has improved rapidly, and won two Pro-Tour stops prior to the Olympics. He is rising rapidly.


Although Waldner had eliminated Ma and Boll in singles, coach Cai Zhenhua still believed that Ryu had the upper hand in the semi-finals. ¡°Ryu plays with no fear, and Waldner will not see any of Ryu¡¯s psychological weaknesses¡±, he said. In the other semi-final, Wang Liqin, who is a little stronger technically, was not as spirited as Wang Hao. Before he could play up to his level, he had lost 1-4.


Before this final match, Wang Hao and Ryu had played each other 7 times. Other than in 1999 at the Asian Junior Championship when he lost 1-3 to Ryu, Wang had won 6 times, including in the 2003 World Cup and in the Qatar Worlds. Cai thought that this was going to be a difficult, 50-50, match. Both players are strong in 3rd-ball attacks, with Wang perhaps holding a slight edge. On the forehand, Ryu is stronger. Since they both made it to the finals, they have mental toughness. But right from the beginning, Ryu used a very aggressive strategy to destroy Wang¡¯s backhand attacks, and shook Wang¡¯s confidence. Although coach Liu Guoliang told him to be decisive, and Cai kept yelling at him to start ¡°running around¡±, Wang somehow looked subdued in the last 4 games. He lacked the traditional toughness that could turn defeats into victories.


Ryu: ¡°I have not beaten Wang Hao in the last several years, and that is a fact. From the very beginning, I was nervous, but as the match progressed, I slowly had hopes for the gold medal. I was cheering myself. I was up 3-1 in games and leading 8-4 in the 5th game, when my opponent came back to win it 13-11. At that instant, my mental state was fluctuating a lot. Coach Kim immediately motivated me and calmed me down, and when play resumed, I had my confidence again. In game 5, at 9-9, my opponent made a mistake and I got match-point. That further increased my confidence, and I finally won¡±.


Kim Taek Soo: ¡°This was an excellent match. Ryu attacked very sharply. Even though Wang played very fast, too, he was not as fast as Ryu¡±.


Wang Hao: ¡°Although I knew before the match that this was going to be very difficult, at the beginning when twice my backhand loops were attacked, I got a little out of sync. In this match, the key game was the 4th, when I was ahead 8-6. I had the next 2 serves, but I was not careful, and lost them all. If I had won that game, the whole match would have been different. Also in game 6, at 9-9, I did not expect him to push long. The last three games I lost were all by 2 points, so it was very regretful¡±.


Liu Guoliang: ¡°Wang Hao¡¯s spirits were not as strong as his opponents. When faced with difficulties, he was slow in adjusting, a little indecisive in his shots, and his legs were a little stiff. He gave his opponent the space to perform well, while he did not play up to his usual speed¡±.


Ahn Jae Hyung (Korean TV commentator and ex-player): ¡°Ryu is in a rising phase. He knew that this match was different than the previous ones, and that his opponent was a little afraid of him. Before the match, we thought that Wang Hao would be the most difficult opponent for him, because he lost to him so many times before. But he felt that Ma Lin and Wang Liqin were even more difficult for him, and that he was more comfortable playing Wang Hao. He knew that Wang Hao¡¯s backhand was very strong, so he forced himself to attack that. After being able to do that a few times, he affected Wang Hao¡¯s mental state. In the past, Wang Hao¡¯s backhand was very difficult to deal with, but today Ryu was quite successful in his strategy. Wang Hao¡¯s overall ability was still a little higher, and he could have turned things around, but he did not. When he missed a few shots, he realized that he was facing a very strong opponent, and he lost a little of his confidence. He made quite a few errors in his loops, as well in his pushes and serve returns. He did not play up to his level¡±.


Jiang Jialiang (commentator for Hong Kong¡¯s TVB): ¡°Today Ryu played at an unusually high level. He challenged Wang Hao right from the beginning. Wang faced two major hurdles. In game 5 when he trailed 4-8, he overcame that hurdle. In game 6 when he was trailing again, he could not overcome that. Wang is only 21, and has a great future. You cannot expect such a young player to be superb in every aspect. He has the potential, and at least he overcame a major hurdle. It was difficult playing when you are behind most of the match and on the defensive. I also noticed that during the game Ryu kept watching Wang¡¯s face, while Wang sometimes avoided eye contact. Ryu had the higher spirits. Of course, in table-tennis, the more aggressive one does not always win, but if you don¡¯t have the better spirits, and can¡¯t execute your strategy and tactics, you will be beaten¡±.


Xu Yinsheng (CTTA president): ¡°In this match, Wang did not link his backhand and forehand attacks well. Wang¡¯s reverse penholder loop is for shoring up the penholder¡¯s backhand weakness. When the opponent is not used to it, he will have some advantage. He had much success with it, and perhaps he had the impression that he could control his opponent with his backhand. But if you rely mainly on it to score points, that is a wrong approach. Backhand is a complementary technique, you still have to use mainly your forehand. You have to step around to use your forehand, and you have to serve and attack. If your backhand loop is good and the opponent could not adjust to it, then you have the upper hand. But after losing a few times, Ryu became familiar with this technique, and started attacking it right from the start. Wang lost a little confidence; he could not impart sufficient spin, and did not have a wide range of placements, and now Ryu found it easier to attack his backhand loops. Throughout the match, Ryu had the initiative, and Wang was not able to show his usual strengths¡±.

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