A dent to China's pride

THE `Great Wall' of China in the world of table tennis may not have crumbled but there were certainly breaches in the ninth Asian junior table tennis championship, held in Hyderabad recently.

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

THE `Great Wall' of China in the world of table tennis may not have crumbled but there were certainly breaches in the ninth Asian junior table tennis championship, held in Hyderabad recently. What came into focus was the growing reputation of countries like Chinese Taipei.

Zheng Changgong staged a brilliant comeback to take the junior boys' title. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

Even as the Chinese camp gave an impression of retaining its pride of place thanks to the brilliant performance of Zheng Changgong (World No.3) and Li Qian (World No.9), who picked the gold in the junior boys and girls singles respectively, it is apparent that the once-formidable ` Great Wall' of China can be breached. A fact which was amply demonstrated by Chinese Taipei in the boys team championship, when the latter knocked out the defending champions 3-1 in the semi-finals and then went on to win the team title after a long gap.

That the Chinese contingent came back strongly after the morale shattering loss to Chinese Taipei is a tribute to its efficacy and efficiency when the chips are down. For losing to Taipei is itself a big loss which is difficult to digest for the rivalry between China and Chinese Taipei is akin to the sporting battles between India and Pakistan.

But what mattered is the prestige in the singles competitions and China ensured that its reputation didn't receive any dents as Zheng and Li Qian rose to the occasion to corner glory.

The boys' final was a classic contest with the Korean Kim Tae Hoon stunning the Chinese camp by wrapping up the first three games even before many at the venue could realise what was happening. A series of brilliant, forehand topspin returns with emphasis on backspin serve gave Kim the upperhand over the World No.3. Perhaps, Zheng showed a little more urgency to meet the ball than was needed and consequently his returns were erratic. That was a phase when it looked as if China was in for another upset in the face of a brilliant, aggressive game from Kim, who employed the pen-hold grip, a rarity now-a-days.

Li Qian with the junior girls' trophy. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

Just when the Koreans were scenting a major upset, Zheng took his game into a different plane with a high quality display. By cleverly slowing down the game, he first upset the rhythm of the Korean and once he had the confidence, Zheng paid back the compliments with a scintillating array of cross-court, forehand returns. The ability to change the length of the returns was another feature which had Kim on the wrong foot. What was apparent was that Zheng's aggression and precision packed with top-spin to the extreme corners were just too good. In fact, Kim lost quite a few points at crucial junctures when there seemed to be too much of topspin in his returns which he failed to control. In the decider, Zheng's lethal forehand drives proved to be the clinching factor after a see-saw battle saw the scores level seven times till eight-all. But, the Chinese star surged ahead with a superior game to win the final 9-11, 6-11, 10-12, 11-1, 12-10, 11-6, 11-8.

In the boys semi-final between Zheng Changgong and Lim Jae Hyun of Korea, more than the Chinese player, it was the coach who seemed to be under pressure. For in his over-enthusiasm to give tips to his ward, the coach had the ignominy of first being served with a yellow card for overdoing the chatting and later the marching orders by referee Shanker Gautam. May be, the positive aspect of that avoidable episode was it made Zheng more determined to get the better of his opponent as was evident in the fourth game when he was trailing 0-5 to pick seven points in-a-row and later wrap up the match.

The girls final between Chinese Li Qian, who shocked World No.2 Li Xiaoxia 8-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-9, 11-4 in the semi-final, and Peng Luyang was keenly fought. Countering the strategy of Peng playing close to the table, Li Qian decided to engage her in long rallies with her deep forehand, topspin returns. The angle and the spin of her returns had Peng in a spot of bother quite often. And, quite interestingly, Li Qian didn't go flat out when the opponent was reeling off points with her impressive forehand. She just decided to employ the `block' with the solitary objective of letting the ball in play. And, this waiting game paid handsome dividends as the game progressed into the decisive phase for Peng soon started making some simple errors with her backhand returns not equal to the task. In the decider, it still could have gone either way. But Peng's cross-court, forehand went out with the scores reading seven-all. That saw Li Qian pick three points in-a-row with smashing forehand shots which dented the confidence of Peng. For, though Peng picked a point after a long and exiciting rally to see the score close at 8-10, it was Li Qian who was celebrating her triumph soon with a 5-11, 11-8, 4-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-7, 11-8 victory.

Nam So Mi posing with the Cadet girls' trophy. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

In the cadets section, Japan picked its only gold in the championship when Mizutani Jun defeated Li Kwun Ngai of Hong Kong 9-11, 12-10, 11-3, 11-7, 11-3 to win the boys final.

The girls final was more exciting as Shaban Zeina of Jordan came close to what could have been a historic win for her country.

But with the set scores reading three-all and tied eight-all in the decider, Shaban had the misfortune of seeing her weak forehand drag into the net and then returning one out to let Nam So Mi of Korea take the title with a 7-11, 12-10, 11-9, 4-11, 11-5, 11-8 win after a one-hour battle.

Mizutani Jun picked up Japan's only gold by claiming the Cadet boys' title. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

The team championship clearly saw the biggest upset of the edition when Chinese Taipie knocked out the top team China 3-1. And the credit for that goes to the ebullient Wu Chih Chi whose resilience under duress and the amazing ability to fightback from the brink were something which the table tennis lovers of Hyderabad may not forget easily.

Clearly embarrassed at the Chinese protest to remove their national flag from the venue before the semi-final, the body language of Chih Chi reflected the spirit and determination of Taipei contingent to settle the scores on the table. As the Taipei think-tank put it later that they had nothing to lose since the pressure was on China, the strategy was simple — to play to the weaknesses of the opponents and be focussed. This was amply demonstrated by Chih Chi, who was easily the star attraction in the team championship.

Winners of the mixed doubles event _ Peng Luyang (left) and Yang Xiaofu. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

In the second singles, he defeated Ma Long 7-11, 12-14, 11-8, 12-10, 11-5 and then in the decider downed Yang Xiaofu 12-10, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4 to script Taipei's historic victory. A win which saw reluctant handshakes from the Chinese players.

And in the final too, Wu Chih Chi was the architect by winning his first singles and the reverse singles to help Taipei defeat Korea 3-1 and lift the boys team title. By all means, Chih Chi proved that even in a team event, it is the brilliance of one individual which can make the difference for he had the superb array of strokes and was equally impregnable with his blocks when the situation demanded.

For China, the consolation came when the girls ensured that there were no upsets by defeating Korea 3-1 to win the team gold.

The Koreans who won the junior boys' and girls' doubles titles: From left: Kim Jung Hyun, Lim Jae Hyun, Jo Eon Rae and Lee Eun Mee. -- Pic. K. RAMESH BABU-

From the Indian perspective, the only redeeming feature was the bronze medal by Salankara Mahalnobis in the cadet girls' singles. She was defeated in the semi-finals by Shaban Zeina 4-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 11-2, 11-5. In team championship, both the boys and girls' campaign ended at the quarter-final stage. Despite all the hype of the Indian youngsters making it to three finals in the Canadian Open preceding this championship, the performance here exposed some grey areas.

However, what was pleasing about the event was the planning that went into the conduct of the championship with the chief referee Lele and the technical committee chairman Dhanraj Chowdhary doing a wonderful job to ensure that it was a problem-free event. Organised by the AP Table Tennis Association, its president Sudeep Lakhtakita, IPS, took personal care of the organisational aspects.

The results:

Junior Boys: Final: Zheng Changgong (Chi) bt Kim Tae Hoon (Kor) 9-11, 6-11, 10-12, 11-1, 12-10, 11-6, 11-8. Semi-finals: Kim Tae Hoon (Kor) bt Li Hu (Chi) 9-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-7, 11-7; Zhang Changgong (Chi) bt Lim Jae Hyun (Kor) 12-10, 7-11, 13-11, 12-10, 11-8.

Junior Girls: Final: Li Qian (Chi) bt Peng Luyang (Chi) 5-11, 11-8, 4-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-7, 11-8. Semi-finals: Li Qian (Chi) bt Li Xiaoxia (Chi) 8-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-9, 11-4; Peng Luyang (Chi) bt Fan Ying (Chi) 12-10, 4-11, 13-15, 11-8, 11-13, 11-8, 11-8.

Doubles: Junior Girls: Final: Lee Eun Mee & Kim Jung Hyun (Kor) bt Cao Zhen & Peng Luyang (Chi) 11-7, 12-10, 2-11, 8-11, 11-5. Semi-finals: Lee Eun Hee & Kim Jung Hyun bt Ito Midori & Y.Yuri (Jap) 10-12, 11-6, 11-4, 11-7; Cao Zhen & Peng Luyang bt Fukuhara Ai & H.Sayaka (Jap) 11-4, 11-7, 11-6.

Doubles: Junior Boys: Final: Lim Jae Hyun & Jo Eon Rae (Kor) bt Zheng Changgong & Ma Long 7-11, 11-6, 12-10, 8-11, 11-6. Semi-finals: Muramori Minoru & K. Seiya (Jap) lost to Zheng Changgong & Ma Long (Chi) 11-7, 5-11, 7-11, 11-7, 9-11; Zhang Jike & Yang Xiaofu (Chi) lost to Lim Jae Hyun & Jo Eon Rae (Kor) 7-11, 6-11, 10-12.

Mixed Doubles: Final: Yang Xiaofu and Peng Luyang (Chi) bt Ma Long and Fan Ying 12-10, 11-7, 11-8.

Cadets: Boys: Final: Mizutani Jun (Jap) bt Li Kwun Ngai (HK) 9-11, 12-10, 11-3, 11-7, 11-3. Semi-finals: Mizutani bt Kim Kang Woo (Kor) 11-5, 11-4, 11-9, 14-12; Li Kwon Ngai (HK) bt Omar Rashid A.Hamid (UAE) 11-6, 11-9, 2-11, 11-6, 11-8.

Girls: Final: Nam So Mi (Kor) bt Shaban Zeina (Jor) 7-11, 12-10, 11-9, 4-11, 11-5, 11-8. Semi-finals: Nam So Mi bt Teerui Moemi (Jap) 11-7, 11-7, 11-9; Shaban Zeina bt Salankara Mahalnobis (Ind) 4-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 11-2, 11-5.

Team championship: Boys: Final: Chinese Taipei bt Korea 3-1 (Wu Chih Chi bt Kim Tae Hoon 11-9, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8; Chiang Hung Chieh lost to Lim Jae Hyun 8-11, 7-11, 3-11; Huang Wei Chin bt Lee Lin Kwon 11-7, 9-11, 12-10, 8-11, 14-12; Wu Chih Chi bt Lim Jae Hyun 7-11, 11-7, 11-5, 10-12, 12-10).

Semi-finals: Chinese Taipei bt China 3-1. Korea bt Japan 3-0.

Girls: Final: China bt Korea 3-1 (Li Xioxia lost to Jee Min Hyung 5-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-4, 7-11; Cao Zhen bt Lee Eun Hee 11-8, 11-8, 11-6; Li Qian bt Park Cha Ra 11-9, 11-6, 7-11, 11-4).

Semi-finals: Korea bt Chinese Taipei 3-0. China bt Japan 3-0.