Interview with Wang Liqin

(Chung's notes: This article appeared in the Sports Weekly.)

There are some reports in the media that the main reason Wang Liqin is in a slump is because he has a new coach. We interviewed Wang to discuss this.

Reporter: There are rumors that the level of the coaches on the national team is low. What do you think?

Wang: To put it precisely, there are still many fine coaches in the national team. Perhaps some of the coaches are very young and have not been through tough times, and therefore they do not have a great sense of urgency, like the older coaches have.

Reporter: We heard that you have a new coach now. Are your mediocre results related to the fact that you have a coaching change?

That’s a ridiculous rumor. Who said I have a new coach? My coach is still Shi Jihao. Even if I had a new coach, we have to realize that table-tennis is not like football where the coach decides on the line-up. The table-tennis player is on the court alone, and the results depend on the player’s performance on the court. How can we blame the coach when we lose?

Reporter: Many say that Liu Guoliang will be Cai’s successor? What’s your opinion on that?

It’s too early to talk about this. I feel that Liu Guoliang is well-suited for the coaching job, and he understands the job well. When he was a player, we trained together and he talked to us a lot about technical issues. He is definitely qualified to coach the players. He has a very clear thought process when it comes to the game. I think what he lacks now is the experience of leading the team, but that should not be a problem in time. The other coaches like Lu Lin and Shi Jihao are world-champions and highly qualified.

R: Can you talk a little about Boll and Chuan, our major opponents for the next few years?

These two players have improved very rapidly, and have great recent achievements. Boll has good service skills, and he does not make many unforced errors. He is also good with sustaining attacks. His rallying skills, and his transition from defense to offense are quite good. He has a good sense of tempo, as well as a great touch. Chuan is ferocious. He handles the short balls very well, and has great speed. He is especially good with initiating close-table backhand attacks. Once he starts his backhand attack, he is able to sustain the attack from all over the court. However, he is a little weak in mid-distance rallies and he does not have great power. These two players are definitely our greatest threats in the next Olympics.

R: The Koreans believe that they now have the advantage in men’s doubles. What do you think? Also, you and Yan Sen have broken up. Who will be a good fit with you?

W: The Korean doubles teams have done well this year, but that does not mean they are better than us. Also, I need to clarify: Yan and I have not broken up. Yan was playing in Japan, so Qin and I were temporary partners. Yan played overseas a lot this year, and we did not have much practice together. If we were to start training, we will not be any worse than the Koreans.

R: The Chinese team did not have great results recently. Besides the rule changes, are there other factors?

I feel that the main reason is the 11-point format. When a good player plays someone not as good in a 21-point game, the score is usually fairly close until one side reaches 10 or so. Then, in the middle part of the game, when the players know the opponents better, the difference in level will show. In 11-point games, if you don’t open the game well, you feel pressured in the whole match. Then it is easy to become nervous, and you cannot execute the high-level skills that you normally have no trouble with. The matches are now harder to play. Many foreign players have become top players after the format change.

R: I heard that next year we will propose to revert back to 21-point games. You think that is likely?

I have not heard of this. I think even if the CTTA were to make such a proposal, the ITTF will not adopt it. They spent so much effort to reduce our advantages, and the 11-point format seems to be the most successful for them. Why would they go back?

R: After the Asian Games, you did not do well in the subsequent tournaments like the World Cup or the Grand Finals. They say that you have the same inconsistency problems, and that it is psychological. Do you agree?

No. After the Asian Games, I have not been in good shape. I lost to Boll at the World Cup and at the Grand Finals, but I don’t think I lost because I was too timid and afraid of losing. In principle, this is different than my previous losses. I think the main reason is that I am still not well-adjusted to 11-point games, and my mental state was not very good. I feel much more pressure than in 21-point games. If I made a couple of errors, I would get impatient; that affected my subsequent performance. I feel that I have to improve my ability to adapt on the court. Through the recent matches, I am slowly changing my tactics and my approach, and I will add some new techniques. The unhidden serve rule affects me a little, but not as much as the 11-point format. I am the solid all-round type of player, and the new format benefits those who are more ferocious, I think. But I will get used to the 11-point games soon. I don’t think it will be long.

R: You lost to Boll a few times. Is this a match-up problem, or are the other reasons?

I don’t think it is a match-up problem, because I have beaten him a few times also. In the Stockholm Grand Finals, I played better against him than in Jinan. At the World Cup I lost too quickly; I had not even start playing my game, and the match was over. That was a mysterious loss for me, and I should not have lost like that. This time in Stockholm it was different. I guess I should say that I was better prepared. But I did not handle his serves well. I was too concerned about not losing the point outright when I received his serves, so the returns lacked quality. Also I did not have variety in serve returns. In that match, whoever attacked first basically won the point. Boll returned my serves better, and I did not have as many opportunities as he did. I was in a passive position, and that made the match difficult. Boll had a very good tempo, and he sustained attacks well. So I had difficulties in that match, especially in serve returns.

R: The Shanghai sports administration wants to get 3 gold medals in Athens, and they have high hopes on you. Obviously the pressure is now higher for you. Can Wang Liqin withstand the pressure?

I have not heard about my responsibilities. I feel honored, but I also feel the intense pressure. I will try my best to bring glory to my country and my home city.

R: The Shanghai table-tennis team did not win any gold medal in the 9th National Games. Can you tell us anything about the 10th National Games?

We had a great chance last year. We had a good team, and we had our chances in men’s teams and men’s singles. But because we did not execute well, and had too much pressure, especially after losing the men’s team title, we were not able to play at our level.

Now our team is not in good shape. We probably will have a weaker team at the 10th National Games. Feng Zhe has left the national team, and Xi Minjie is now retired. Other than Guo Jinhao and myself, there is no one from Shanghai on the national team. If we want to do well in the next National Games, we have to quickly develop some new talent. Jiangsu is doing well in this respect: their youngster Chen Qi had some great wins in the Super League. He is now on the national team. Shanghai lacks such new talent.

R: The 2005 Worlds will be held in Shanghai. What do you think about that?

Shanghai badly needs this kind of major event. We are now in an abyss. Our team is not doing well, and we get very little attention from the media. There are very few fans, and most of our Super League matches have very poor attendance. We had to play some home games in Jiangsu. I feel that Shanghai table-tennis needs everyone’s attention. The Worlds will be a great opportunity for us to revive the Shanghai table-tennis excellence. The Tianjin Worlds had generated interests for the sport in Tianjin, and I hope that the Shanghai Worlds will have equally good results.

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