Chinese juggernaut rolls on

Led by world champion Wang Liqin, China swept aside every team in its path. It dropped just one match in the competition, which underlined the nation's domination in the tournament.

What Cheng Yinghua, a member of the Chinese table tennis team from 1977-87, says in an article he co-authored with Larry Hodges in the USATT Magazine makes a lot of sense, and interesting reading. The four-time US men's singles champion talks about the triumph of the Chinese system that has always remained behind closed doors. Unveiling the secrets, Yinghua explains why the country continues to be invincible in table tennis. "China has more depth than any other team in the world," he says.

According to Yinghua, apart from training long and hard (seven hours a day), China's greatest strength lay in the `professional' practice partners.

"One huge advantage China has over the rest of the world is their practice partners. Typically, in most countries, members of the national team train together. However, in China, much of the training is with `professional' practice partners. Instead of players always taking turns on drills, all the training focuses on the one player. (This is especially helpful for the women, who practice with male practice partners who are usually stronger than the women players.)," he says.

Yinghua concludes his article by saying, "Challenging the Chinese in table tennis is a formidable task, similar to the rest of the world challenging USA in basketball."

The children in China are tested at a very early age for sports skills. Also, every school in the country has a table tennis team that trains regularly. In a nation of 1.3 billion people, that's a big number. According to a media report, more than 10 million players play table tennis regularly.

Adham Sharara, President, ITTF, lauded the performance of the Asians. "The future does look bright for Germany," he said. "But I think the other European countries are a little behind. The Chinese and the Koreans continue to improve and they are improving very fast, faster than their European counterparts. The others have to accelerate like the Asians." The fact that 10 paddlers among the top 50 in men, and 17 paddlers among the top 50 in women in the world belong to China underlines the nation's true domination. Moreover, the number one players in the world in the men's and women's sections — Wang Liqin and Zhang Yining — are Chinese.

The World Table Tennis Team Championship in Bremen, Germany, gave a glimpse of the powerful Chinese machine. It was the 15th world title for the Chinese men who have not been defeated in a team championship since losing to Sweden in 2000. Led by the current individual world champion Wang Liqin, China swept aside every team in its path. It dropped just one match in the competition — in the semifinal against Germany — to record a 24-1 win-loss ratio in individual matches.

China retained the Swaythling Cup with an awesome 3-0 drubbing of Korea in the final.

The Chinese women put it across Hong Kong 3-1 to lift the Corbillon Cup for the sixth straight time and 16th overall.

The Chinese men's performance in the league stage was mind-blowing. In Group A with Sweden, Denmark, Romania, the Netherlands and Italy, China maintained a clean slate, winning all its matches 3-0. Sweden, one of the favourites in the men's section, made a surprise exit in the pre-quarterfinals, losing to Russia. Another team, which promised much but disappointed was Austria. It lost to Hong Kong in the last eight.

Host Germany came up with a fine performance in men's category. Having won all its group matches, Germany topped Group C, which had Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia and Norway. Easily, Timo Boll, the World No. 2, was the toast of the tournament.

China finally put paid to the hopes of Germany 3-1 in the semifinals.

BELOW PAR

The euphoria over the performance at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games yet to subside, the Indian team left for Bremen, Germany, hoping to put up a good show.

However, the World Table Tennis Championship turned out to be a big disappointment for the team. Spearheaded by Sharath Kamal, Soumyadeep Roy, Subhajit Saha, Jitender Kumar and the controversial Pathik Mehta, the men's team just about managed to remain in the second division.

The women's team, comprising Mouma Das, Poulomi Ghatak, Nandita Saha, Neha Aggarwal and Kasturi Chakraborty, was relegated to the second division from the championship division (top 24 teams).

Putting up a decent performance in the group matches, the men's team finished third behind Singapore and Bulgaria. It posted wins over USA (3-0), Turkey (3-0) and Finland (3-0). In the knock-out stage, India lost to England 2-3 in the pre-quarterfinals, and in the play-off matches, it lost to Argentina (2-3), but defeated Slovenia (3-2) to finish 35th.

"Our expectation was to finish in the top two and qualify for the championship/first division, but the team didn't click," said Sharath Kamal. "Finishing between 28 and 30 would have been a bit satisfactory."

The women's team was a disaster. Grouped with China, Romania, Belarus, the Czech Republic and Serbia in the championship division, it finished last. In the play-off matches, India lost to Slovakia (0-3) and USA (2-3) to slip to second division.

THE RESULTS

Men's final: China bt Korea 3-0 (Wang Hao bt Oh Sang Eun 11-6, 11-8, 11-4; Wang Lipin bt Ryu Seung Min 11-8, 9-11, 11-9, 11-7; Ma Lin bt Lee Jung Woo 11-9, 11-7, 11-7).

Semifinals: China bt Germany 3-1 (Ma Lin lost to Timo Boll 11-6, 11-7, 3-11, 6-11, 5-11; Wang Liqin bt Christian Suss 11-9, 12-10, 11-9; Wang Hao bt Zoltan Fejer-Konnerth 11-5, 11-2, 11-8; Wang Liqin bt Timo Boll 11-8, 11-13, 11-7, 9-11, 11-6); Korea bt Hong Kong 3-0 (Oh Sang-eun bt Cheung Yuk 11-9, 11-9, 13-11; Ryu Seung-min bt Li Ching 11-9, 10-12, 11-9, 13-11; Lee Jung-woo bt Ko Lai Chak 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-5).

Other division winners: II division: Hungary III division: Thailand IV division: Puerto Rico.

Women's final: China bt Hong Kong 3-1 (Zhang Yining bt Lin Ling 11-4, 11-9, 11-6; Guo Yue lost to Tie Yana 11-8, 9-11, 11-9, 22-20; Wang Nan bt Lau Sui Fei 7-11, 12-14, 12-10, 11-8, 11-3; Zhang Yining bt Tie Yana 11-8, 11-3, 11-9).

Semifinals: China bt Belarus 3-0 (Yue Guo bt Viktoria Pavlovich 11-6, 11-6, 9-11, 11-6; Yining Zhang bt Veronika Pavlovich 11-4, 11-7, 11-7; Nan Wang bt Tatyana Kostromina 11-2, 11-4, 11-4); Hong Kong bt Japan 3-2 (Ling Lin lost to Ai Fukuhara 9-11, 6-11, 11-7, 4-11; Yana Tie bt Saki Kanazawa 7-11, 11-13, 13-11, 11-6, 11-6; Fei Sui Lau lost to 11-9, 11-7, 7-11, 8-11, 7-11; Yana Tie bt Ai Fukuhara 11-6, 5-11, 11-7, 11-3; Ling Lin bt Saki Kanazawa 11-9, 11-5, 11-4).

Other division winners: II division: Sweden III division: Portugal IV division: Iran. A Special Correspondent