Category Archives: interview

Mima Ito Discusses WTT Doha and Tokyo Olympics

Mima Ito appears to have recently created a stir among Chinese media by declaring to Japanese media that she has figured out how to beat potential Olympic opponents Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha. The timing comes right after China’s National Games Qualifier tournament. However, Chen did not participate in the event, and Sun only played doubles. Chinese fans are left guessing whether Ito is really onto something, or whether she is participating in so-called psychological warfare.

Note: we were unable to obtain the original source of the Japanese interview and are only relaying the reaction by Chinese media. If someone could share the original interview, it would be greatly appreciated.

Ito seems to be guessing that China will send Chen and Sun to play the singles event in Tokyo, but China has not yet released its roster. Based on recent comments made by coach Li Sun, there is speculation that China will instead send Chen and reigning World Champion Liu Shiwen, who appears to have fully recovered from the elbow injury that sidelined her during the second half of 2020, to play in the singles event.

At this point, interpreting Ito’s statement is like reading tea leaves, but is it possible that she is trying to bait China into not sending Sun, who is 6-1 against Ito since 2018?

Ito also recently wrote a brief article on some of her thoughts on her performance at WTT Doha. We produce a rough English translation below. Editor notes are in italics.

In WTT Doha in March, I won the single’s champion in two events (i.e. WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender). This tournament is different from previous ones, as the matches were only best three out of five until the quarter-finals. Because I don’t know what would happen under this format, I was very cautious throughout the tournament. Once I reached the stage where it was best four out of seven, I instantly felt relieved and could play comfortably.

Even though I wasn’t immediately playing my best starting from my first match (Ito squeaked by Britt Eerland 3-2 in her first match), my goal every day was simply to play to the level that I know I am capable of, and I slowly began to enjoy it. I feel that whether it is in table tennis technique or my mental game, I have become stronger in many aspects.

Different from last year’s world tour, WTT uses many different types of lighting, so the whole arena feels like a movie theatre. It made me feel very glamorous. Also different from the usual tournaments is that the barriers were very low, so it’s really easy to hit the ball outside of the playing area. The athletes also had to pick up the balls. Whenever I did this, I would start thinking, “if I take this path and walk around this way, I can get to the ball faster.” I would think about these things while playing the tournament.

Throughout these two competitions, I felt that winning the point during the first three shots was my main playing style (shameless plug: check out a similar observation Edges and Nets made in our finals analysis). When I win points through the serve and receive, I play with more excitement (unsure if this is the correct term. The original Japanese word appears to be ノリノリ).

I started gaining confidence in my serve when I won the German Open in March 2015, where I beat very high-ranked players (Ito beat Feng Tianwei, who was ranked number four at the time). I felt that my serves were very good, which made it difficult for my opponents to play aggressively.

At the time, I felt that as long as I could get the two points on my serves, it was enough. However, as I started playing these players more often, even if I won both my points on the serve, I would just return two points back to them on the serve return. Hence, I think both my serve and serve return need improvement.

I need to think carefully and come to a decision on whether to play international tournaments before the Olympics. Before WTT Doha, I did a lot of practice matches with many other players. I think this format is good as it gives the feeling of competition, but at the same time I can get some training in. I hope I can continue to use this method to prepare for the Olympics.

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Liu Shiwen Interview With CCTV

Reigning World Champion Liu Shiwen sat down with CCTV for an extended interview regarding her gutsy run to the 2019 World Championship title and the psychological aspect of her career. The full video (in Mandarin) is available on Weibo. Edges and Nets has provided a rough summary of the interview below. Unfortunately, my level of Mandarin was not high enough to capture a lot of what Liu said in the later half of the interview. If anyone has a more accurate or detailed translation, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

Liu Shiwen on her journey leading up to her World Championship run

*voice over of Liu Shiwen right after her World Championship win*

LS: I’ve wanted the world championship title so badly. I’ve been inches away from the title in the finals twice, so I feel that this title was very difficult to win.

*sit down interview*

LS: Right after the final match, I had a dreaming feeling and didn’t know what had just happened.

CCTV: You couldn’t believe the course of events, or you couldn’t believe the results?

LS: Actually it’s neither. I felt like I had completed a dream I have held for a long time. You would think you would be extremely happy, but actually it felt quite average. Before, I thought I would be endlessly happy like it’s some huge deal, but when I got it, it felt like one short shot of adrenaline and then very quickly I felt pretty average.

Inside my heart I’ve always had a belief in myself, because I think very highly of Ma Long, but the path he had previously taken was also quite rocky, and in the end he accomplished his dreams. Actually I think in my heart I‘ve always had this belief to support me, that I can end up being like Ma Long.

CCTV: Ma Long said that when he saw you win world champion that he cried

LS:Perhaps my experience was too difficult, so everyone feels kind of sorry for me.

To be an athlete, it always requires strength. You don’t want to cry when you lose and let others feel sorry for you. But I feel like the moment I won, I had a lot of emotions, and I felt pretty tired. I didn’t want to suppress myself and wanted to capture the moment. At the beginning I did not want to cry, after I got off the court, I felt pretty tired and wanted to sit and calm down for a couple minutes. And in that moment, maybe I wasn’t able to control my emotions.

Looking back at my experience, I’ve always had a belief in myself. Even more than winning the title, what I really wanted was to feel satisfied with myself.

CCTV: So do you feel satisfied?

LS: I guess throughout my training and competition, actually I just set up a goal for myself to play well. Before the tournament, I didn’t have this belief that I was for sure going to win the championship. I just told myself that I need to play to a certain condition [level of play] that I hoped for.

CCTV: What was the hardest moment of your career?

LS: I feel like it’s all difficult. I think part of being an athlete for so many years is that there is a lot more losing than winning, especially in big competitions. That’s why I was so emotional when I won, because it really is not easy.

CCTV: Can you talk about how you considered quitting table tennis?

LS: During the most difficult time, I’ve thought about it. I spoke about it with my parents, but I did not dare bring it up with the national team coaches. I considered quitting, because at the lowest times, I really could not see the possibility of winning World Champion.

CCTV: What helped you turn it around this time?

LS: It’s not like when I was young, where I could just crush everyone with my skill. While before I was focused on catching the ball and dominating the technical battle, but this time I better realized it’s not just a match of skills, but a match of your whole personhood. And I wanted to see if this time, I was mentally really up for it.

CCTV: Talk about how the fuss about seedings and world rankings affect you [Liu was the fourth seed at the 2019 World Championships].

LS: In the past, I’ve been one of the favorites for the championship, but this time I was not so it felt a little awkward. I was scared, but I was grateful for this opportunity, so I decided to make the best of it. I also realized that this could possibly be my last World Championships.

On her semi-final win over Ding Ning

LS: When I was playing Ding Ning, I felt that she was the strongest player in the tournament. In the past, I felt like I would beat Ding Ning, but this time I really felt that Ding Ning was the strongest player.

In the first two games, I was still very nervous (Liu Shiwen lost the first two games 11-5, 11-9 before coming back to win 4-2). Then I realized that even if I could push it to six or seven games, I would still lose, because this was not the way I wanted to play.

When I caught up to 2-2, I felt that I had opened up the situation. The last four games the score was quite uncertain (Liu actually won the last four games 11-6, 11-6, 11-0, 11-2). However, I felt that Ding Ning did not play up to her true level the last few games.

I was actually quite calm, because it was only a semi-final. A semi-final actually feels quite far from the championship title. But ten minutes after the match ended, I started getting very nervous. I was about to play my double’s final (Liu won the mixed doubles title with Xu Xin), and I told Ma Lin I was extremely nervous. I had to play my doubles final, and I couldn’t let myself think of my singles semi-final I just completed or my singles final in the future.

The last time I was this nervous was in the 2015 World Championship finals. A semi-final actually feels quite far from the championship title, because there is still one more match. However, once you reach the finals it is a completely different feeling.

Right after you lose the final, it doesn’t feel too bad, but afterwards you go through a really slow waiting period for your next shot at it. I’ve already had this experience twice, so I really didn’t want to go through it again.

On her finals win over Chen Meng

LS: I knew that Chen Meng was likely to build an early lead on me, because I have not had much success against her over the last couple years. However, at the start of the match I did not feel that it was impossible for me to win. At the start of the game, everyone is psychologically neutral, so I already expected her to build an early lead (Chen Meng won the first game 11-9).

I expect everyone to do a lot of psychological preparation before that match. Before that match has started, we’ve both played several games in our head and assessed where to hit the ball and how we will move. I feel like one of my advantages was my two final experiences and also how much I wanted it.

CCTV: I felt that Chen Meng was very anxious against you. You could see it on her face.

I think at the end of the day, table tennis isn’t just a game of skill. It’s a psychological battle combining your experience and everything else together. I knew what I had to do to win the championship. I think since Chen Meng has had a lot of winning experience against me, she would be rushing to win. However, at the end of the day, we were competing on who would make less errors and who would mentally collapse first.

CCTV: When did you really feel like the title was in reach?

LS: When I took the 2-1 lead. Even when Chen Meng won the fourth game, I was still satisfied at 2-2, because it was a score that I had wanted when we started the match. 

In the fifth and sixth games (Liu won game 5 11-0), I felt the match tipping in my favor, but I didn’t want to think about the result yet. I’ve played enough matches that I know that in one moment the whole match can flip around.

CCTV: So you had to fight (literal translation: bite down) for every point.

LS: Yes. Since I was a bit of an underdog against Chen Meng, at 2-2 the match could flip at any moment.

CCTV: Is there a lot of joy in this process (playing ping pong)?

LS: Of course. Joy and suffering have to coexist together, and the suffering is necessary to push you to a level you didn’t think was imaginable. I think this is extremely beautiful, being able to realize your explosive potential. It is digging out this potential that brings out the most joy and happiness.

CCTV: Have things changed after winning the championships?

LS: Definitely. After winning the championship, I’ve felt that my expectations for myself have changed. It isn’t about other people or outsiders, but just for me.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. Also be sure to check out our preview of Liu Shiwen at WTT Doha 2021 from March 3 to March 13.

Timo Boll Interview With German Newspaper Fuldaer Zeitung

Timo Boll recently did an interview with the German Newspaper Fuldaer Zeitung. We provide a rough translation (courtesy of Google Translate) of the interview. Additional notes for clarity were inserted in italics.

When Timo Boll comes to Maberzell [a table tennis club], a full house is guaranteed. The coronavirus lockdowns prevent this. Instead of signing autographs, the 39-year-old table tennis superstar from Borussia Düsseldorf [a table tennis club] takes time for an interview and to discuss personal matters.

At 16 you still have dreams. How about 39?

Ambition is definitely there. However, every day is no longer the same as the next. Sometimes I’m just the same and full of energy. Then there are days when I wake up and it pinches all over the place. I am currently in a very good phase. I feel like I can definitely fight for medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

How much are the corona restrictions hindering the preparations for your sixth Olympic Games in Tokyo?

Not particularly. I play a lot of Bundesliga games and can go through my training program during the week. For me as an older player, it is not so problematic not to fly around the world to play in international tournaments. So I have my routine and do not need to constantly change time zones and temperatures. That’s good for me.

Then there will definitely be more time for your family.

Yes, I’ve never been home for so long in one go. Our Champions League bubble in Düsseldorf – that was nine or ten days – felt like forever. Otherwise that was the standard. I was on the road for one to three weeks at a time and had the suitcases brought to the airport to have fresh laundry again. Now I get something from my daughter’s childhood. That’s why I don’t want to complain too much.

Your daughter Zoey is seven years old. Who is responsible for homeschooling?

I’ll do it.

Do you have the peace and quiet you need?

Yes, but sport makes me a perfectionist. I sometimes find myself having high expectations of her after all. I really have to pull myself out at times.

Would you be a born elementary school teacher?

I would have to re-educate myself a bit. As a competitive athlete, I am very meticulous and almost obsessed with details. You can’t be in elementary school. If the E or O is not so nicely curved, you have to look over it without having a fit. This meticulousness made me so good as an athlete and is perhaps a weakness as a teacher.

Your hairstyle fits. What’s the secret?

I am very lucky that my wife is a trained hairdresser. She hasn’t worked for 15 years, but she hasn’t forgotten how to do it. So I’m happy to have the cut now without doing something that is forbidden [by covid restrictions].

You radiate calm. Can you get mad at anything?

We have just had a young puppy again. It’s ten weeks old and full of energy. If he bites a table or chair leg for the 25th time, I really have to keep my composure. It tingles inside me.

Athletes are welcome guests on a wide variety of television formats. Would you consider a job in the jungle camp, at Let’s Dance or the ultra-hard sports show Eternal Heroes?

The Eternal Heroes was partly a very funny show with a couple of very good challenges. The other is just too extreme. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the type of person who wants to be the center of attention. And that’s what these shows are made for.

Are there plans for a life after an active career?

Of course, you make a few thoughts. In my head I’m still too much an athlete and table tennis player. I still enjoy it too much. The thought of it hurts me. I am grateful that things are still going so well at this high level. I will try to drag out the end of my career as long as possible. There will probably never be anything more that I can do so well and that I enjoy so much. I’ll probably have to be dragged off the record at some point.