Ahmedabad: For 22-year-old Lin Gaoyuan of China, matching his more celebrated compatriots has been a way of life since he took up professional table tennis. India, though, has been kind for the youngster. At 17, he announced his arrival by reaching the final of the World Junior Championships in Hyderabad.
Since then, the highly competitive nature of the sport has seen Gaoyuan struggle to challenge the top dogs. It all, though, changed on Sunday as he defeated world No 2 and compatriot Fan Zhedong in the final of the Asian Cup in Ahmedabad.
Zhedong, incidentally, is the same opponent he lost to in Hyderabad. As fate would have it, Gaoyuan, who was competing in his second-ever final after the Junior Championships, faced his old nemesis. The last five years seemed to have taught him a lot as the world No 29 exacted sweet revenge with a 11-7, 7-11, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5 victory at The Arena by Transstadia.
Zhedong has had the better of Gaoyuan on multiple occasions in the past. In their previous encounter during the Chinese National Games, it was Zhedong, who once again had the better of his rival.
“I had a very good mindset and didn’t have too much of burden. I think I performed very well today in the match. I am very happy with my win,” said Gaoyuan after the match.
Keeping all his previous encounters with Zhedong in mind, Gaoyuan decided to approach Sunday’s final with extra caution and kept his rallies short.
Gaoyuan never gave Zhendong space to operate. The latter’s potent backhand was also restricted thanks to Gaoyuan’s pace and placement. “Of course, I changed my tactics and prepared a lot before the game. I watched Fan’s videos and executed my tactics accordingly during the game. I was very determined,” said Gaoyuan.
Talking about his transition from a runners-up finish in Hyderabad five years ago to an Asian Cup champion, Gaoyuan said, “Five years ago, the World Junior Championship was my last event in the juniors circuit. Since then, I competed in many events that included the World Senior Championships and Asian events and many ITTF World Tours which gave me a lot of experience.”
China’s dominance knows no bounds
While, Gaoyuan downed the much fancied Zhedong in the men’s final, in the women’s final, it was again an all Chinese affair.
World No 3 Zhu Yuling prevailed over her compatriot and defending champion Liu Shiwen, who is ranked No 4 in the world. The match went down to the wire with Yuling emerging victorious by a 6-11, 11-9, 11-8, 10-12, 11-7, 11-13, 11-6 margin.
It sealed another dominant performance by the Chinese at a prestigious table tennis event. In fact, since its inception in 1983, only five different countries have won the men’s title at the Asian Cup. China alone have won the men’s title 25 times. Since 2008, they have now won the title nine consecutive times.
So what does China do differently compared to other countries?
China’s coach Li Sun praised his contingent’s hard work during the preparations for the tournament. Crediting it for the secret behind the country’s continued success in the sport.
“This tournament is very important to us and it is a part of our plans. It is connected to the World Cup so we choose the best players to represent China,” Sun said. “Pressure is normal for us because everyone wants to beat the Chinese always. We practice hard and that is why we have many top players.”
For India coach Massimo Costantini, the secret to China’s dominance in the sport lies not just in practice, but in intent.
“For the last six years, China have the target of dominating the Olympics and because of that they dominate everything else,” Costantini said. “Japan have changed their policy since they got the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Around 50 to 60 players from their countries are playing around the world as we speak.”
“They have a huge quantity in their cadet levels. They invest a lot of money in coaches, they send them abroad for training. Some Japanese coaches go to China to improve their understanding of the game. If I propose something like this to SAI, they will laugh at me,” Costantini added.
Women: Final: Zhu Yuling (CHN) bt Liu Shiwen (CHN) 6-11, 11-9, 11-8, 10-12, 11-7, 11-13, 11-6; Third Position: Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN) bt Miu Hirano (JPN) 9-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-3, 9-11, 11-8.
Men: Final: Lin Gaoyuan (CHN) bt Fan Zhendong (CHN) 11-7, 7-11, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5; Third Position: Lee Sangsu (KOR) bt Chen Chien-An (TPE) 11-7, 11-7, 10-12, 11-3, 12-10.