Category Archives: interview

Chen Meng Interview on Her Mentors and Olympic Preparations

Chen Meng recently sat down with WTT for an interview on her Olympic preparations and relationship with several mentors. The transcript (in Chinese) and related images can be found here. We provide an English translation below.

Since when did you feel that you can take on the heavy responsibility of the competition?

Probably in the three competitions [All China National Championships, World Cup, ITTF Finals] after the pandemic restart in 2020. After these three tournaments, it felts okay, but it felt like something was missing. But I don’t know exactly what was missing either. But after these three tournaments, in fact, from my heart, my control, and understanding of myself, I felt confident that I could take it one.

Li Xiaoxia and Zhang Yining are your idols, who do you think you are more like?

Because the personalities may be different, I don’t think I can imitate them, but to be a better version of myself. If you try to imitate, you can’t imitate it, because personality, including some playing styles, are actually not the same. But the type of experience they have, because I usually go to some of their previous games, including the Olympic Games, I think it’s more to learn from their experience. When I reach the moment how should I better help myself get through this time. How to help myself shake off bad moments, and sometimes to learn when it’s good, how they conduct themselves when it’s going well.

Who would you ask to share their experience with you?

Sister Xia, because she belongs to the Shandong team! So I have been with her more since I was a child. Generally, I would ask her for some advice, including now more often from Director Ma [Ma Lin]. Because they all have this kind of experience in the Olympic Games, and they are all successful experiences. So I will learn from them, including preparing for the battle, including what kind of feeling it will be at the Olympics. I will often ask them.

Are you ready for the Olympics?

At the beginning, I was thinking that I haven’t participated, so there were some areas that I felt worried about. But when I think about it later, in fact, I think everything has its pros and cons. Because I have never participated, I am full of expectations for the Olympics, and I am very excited. So in terms of preparing for the battle, I think it will feel fresh. In fact, I feel that this kind of Olympic Games during the pandemic is the first time for everyone, and they have never experienced it. In fact, everyone is the same.

Can you imagine what it’s like on the Olympic Games?

Actually if you ask me to think about it, I really can’t imagine what it looks like. But I went to talk to Director Ma, and he would tell me what it’s like in the Olympics. What he said to me is that you will feel that the surrounding environment will bring you a very nervous atmosphere, because everyone wants to play well and want to win the championship. It’s actually a competition, but the layout of the venue is all five rings. So it always gives you a feeling of excitement and pressure. In fact, he said that as long as people want to fight well, everyone is actually under the same pressure.

And the errors in this environment, it’s not like your usual errors where they don’t matter. Then you feel that everything must be cared for and cherished. However, when he told me this feeling, I didn’t really understand it at first. But after telling me many times, and even after I watched some games, I can actually feel a little bit like this. But I think I have to feel it myself. Prepare yourself, and then make yourself stronger, and then when you face all your opponents at the competition, you will not be scared.

How will the pressure be relieved?

I usually like to talk about it when I am under pressure. I think talking, finding someone who I trust and talking, I think saying it out loud is actually a good kind of release for me. And I don’t like to make myself heavy. I like to be in a relatively relaxed and happy state.

Is there a group of relatives and friends around you, probably a few people, who frequently answer your calls?

Yes, of course.

About four or five?

There aren’t that many. Actually, there are only two of them. I don’t think there are too many people you want to talk to. As long as they understand you and can listen, I think it’s actually enough. If you just listen to what I have been saying, I can speak for about 30 minutes. As far as I am concerned, I am actually quite fast in resolving stress. As long as I am uncomfortable, in fact, as long as I say it, I will feel a lot more comfortable. And I won’t have so many distracting thoughts.

What does the Olympics mean to you?

I think it is a manifestation of personal values. Because I think as an athlete, in fact, I think the best stage for you to show yourself is in the Olympics. It gives me the feeling that all eyes are on me. So I hope I can really show my best mental state and competitive state in just a few days. In fact, I think I really think too much, it’s really so useless. When it’s really time, you have done your best, you have prepared what you should prepare, and you have done what you should do. At that point, you can show yourself, you just need to do your best.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out our translation of Ma Long’s and Liu Shiwen’s interviews with WTT along with other interviews we have conducted and translated and the rest of our Olympic coverage.

Sun Yingsha WTT Interview On Olympic Preparations and More

Sun Yingsha recently sat down with WTT for an interview on her Olympic preparations and her experience at the 2019 World Team Cup. The transcript (in Chinese) can be found here. We provide an English translation below.

How have you changed over the past few years?

The changes I’ve went through over the last two years, including standards for myself, actually I think it has clearly gone up to when I first arrived [onto the team]. When I first arrived, I was always in a fighting state of mind, and I would let it all out on the table. Now, in training I’ve actually seen my progress. Now when I lost a point, I feel like it’s a major pity. I’ve had this feeling since roughly last year’s World Cup, but I still think it’s not enough. I feel like every point should be very precious to me.

How are you preparing for the Olympics?

It always feel like I can never train enough. I still need to train every little aspect. I need to train until leadership, coaches, and I can see progress. Then I can feel confident in myself. If you want to be Olympic champion, then you will always feel that you have not trained enough.

Please recount your 2019 World Team Cup experience [Sun Yingsha came back from down 10-7 to win deuce in the fifth against Mima Ito].

I’ll often think about this competition. It’s been two years now. I’ve indeed watched it many times. I don’t just watch the last few points in the comeback. It’s starting from when we step onto the court, including the entrance and intros. I sometimes watch it all.

Because I feel like this feeling is something that only I can know, including my mood in the game and the scary situation I was in. I was down three match points, with the team score tied, and I had already used the time-out. But now when I think about it, especially during training, it really is the most precious match to me.

Sun Yingsha celebrates in her 3-2 win over Mima Ito at the 2019 World Team Cup
Sun Yingsha celebrates in her 3-2 win over Mima Ito at the 2019 World Team Cup

Compared to the 2019 World Cup, what mental preparations have you made for the Olympics?

That night, I was able to fall asleep, but I didn’t sleep that soundly. That match was already a high-pressure environment. Once I get to the Tokyo Olympics and go to the match, it may be ten times or 100 times more nerve-wracking. But I think having experienced it [the 2019 World Cup] before, this time it will be slightly better. At least I know this kind of feeling, even if it’s just usually, because international competitions are hard to come by these days, but I have a little ground on to stand on during training.

What do the Olympics mean to you?

First of all, the Olympics really are a stage that many athletes want to play on. In my heart, I find it equally super cool. And right now I’m just speaking from imagination, but once I’m playing in the Olympics I really just need to go out and compete. Athletes all look beautiful on the court, and if I want to win the achievement of my life, I think I must do this kind of thing well. The goal of the Olympics in my mind may never change.

Can you maintain self-discipline in order to achieve your goals?

I can definitely do it. Even if I lack some understanding or care of myself, I feel that this goal of the Olympic Games in my heart, including winning the Olympic gold medal, has always been impossible for me to shake.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out our translation of Ma Long’s and Liu Shiwen’s interviews with WTT along with other interviews we have conducted and translated and the rest of our Olympic coverage.

Liu Shiwen Interview on Injury Rehab and Olympics

Liu Shiwen sat down with WTT last week for an interview with WTT on her recovery from an elbow injury and her role as the mixed doubles player and veteran women’s team member at the Tokyo Olympics. A translation is provided below. Pictures were taken from here.

How is your injury rehab going?

So far, it’s been going quite well. Ever since January, my physical and technical condition have been gradually improving bit by bit. Actually, I feel like the hardest part was during that time when I was hurt. During that time, I really felt hurt and confused, and I faced a lot of unknowns, so emotionally I felt like I was crumbling. After deciding to get surgery, I had to start over and prepare from scratch.

And even though the recovery process after surgery has been difficult too, overall I consider it to be going smoothly. Every day, I can see my improvement, and I feel like my condition is even better than before I got hurt. And during the recovery, my fighting spirit has also gradually been recovering, like I’ve found my motivation in life and in ping pong again. Because during that time, really every day was painful and confusing, never knowing what the situation was. I was very worried, and I had to face it. And it was hard to face the confusing injury situation and Olympic situation. When you don’t know how it is to face it, i makes you feel like you’re crumbling.

After getting surgery, a lot of it was just recovering from the pain, just constantly testing the pain and then adjusting myself. Actually, I felt like this was more targeted motivating. Then everyday was just trying to conquer myself and then live well day by day. This is quite motivating and challenging.

What helps you get to the game back faster?

In the early stage, I feel like it’s because of the people around me. I feel like it’s because the entire coaching staff, including teammates like my doubles partner Xu Xin, still believe in me. Even though I was hurt for so long, they still really believe in me. I feel like this has given me a lot of power. Actually when I first started rehab, I felt like the time was very tight. I didn’t know if I would be able to play to the level of, let’s not even talk about the Olympics, my normal training condition. I really didn’t know.

But with everyone giving me encouragement combined with the Olympics and the mixed doubles event, I felt like these two points simultaneously gave me a lot of support that allowed me to get through the early stages of laying a foundation, which were really difficult.

Liu Shiwen gets elbow surgery
Liu Shiwen gets elbow surgery

What was it like the first time you returned to playing?

I think the first time I picked up a paddle again was in Guangzhou during the league match [presumably she is referring to this event in December]. At that time, I just wanted to move around and try it out a bit. Actually training was out of the question.

Then in Chengdu [in December], it felt pretty similar. However, when I was in Chengdu, my teammates were all on holiday. Really when I was able to return to gathering, training and eating with my teammates was around January. Actually, I was pretty happy and calm. I feel like to be able to return with my team and train with everyone [made me happy]. Because before that I had to do a lot preparations, I hadn’t played for almost a year, and I had just recovered from surgery. I feel like just returning to the team isn’t easy. Because you have to keep up with everyone else’s training rhythm and competitiveness. This requires a very high standard.

And after returning to the team, even though I couldn’t completely return to training, sometimes I couldn’t keep up, just being around everyone and seeing everyone train inspired. So I still had the desire to return to my previous level. I wasn’t thinking about the Olympics. I was just thinking about getting a little bit better and finding my best condition.

Have you returned to 100 percent?

Well how do you measure what is 100 percent? Actually I haven’t put too much though into that. I just want to diligently get better a little bit every day and conquer myself. My goal is not to return to my old form. Actually I want to find a new self, to conquer myself continuously, not to compare with how I was playing before. So I don’t think I need to measure whether I’ve returned to my old self. I want to improve bit by bit and surpass my old self.

But now I feel like from the perspective of the mixed doubles at the Olympics, my partnership with Xu Xin has had a big improvement. Even though I have just returned for three or four months, the time we have spent together is really long. And for both of us our main event is mixed doubles, so we have been training together and improving our chemistry a lot, so I think we understand each other even better than before. In this regard, I have a lot of confidence.

From the perspective of singles and other things, I just need to diligently move forward one step at a time.

What are your thoughts on Xu Xin?

First of all I’m very thankful to him. Because I was hurt for so long, and I at the stage when I couldn’t practice, I communicated with him and told him this injury is actually pretty serious. Even though I hadn’t decided to get surgery yet, I kind of knew it in my heart. He put a lot of confidence in me. He told me, “first take care of your injury. We still have time.”

I think our trust in each other is very solid, so even though in the early stages of recovery I was play pretty poorly, he was still always giving me encouragement and trust. I feel like this trust comes from the bottom of our hearts.

I feel like it wasn’t easy for him either, because when I was hurt he had to change doubles partner and it was all very confusing. But I feel like since I’ve returned and we’ve trained together every day, his playing condition is getting better and better. And now that we’ve entered the final sprint in preparations and start to peak, I feel like his condition and his fighting spirit have never been better. I feel like this has driven me a lot, and I really +hope that we can get gold together at the Olympics.

Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin will be playing in the opening mixed doubles event at the Tokyo Olympics.
Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin will be playing in the opening mixed doubles event at the Tokyo Olympics.

Will there be pressure at the Olympics?

Of course there will be pressure. No matter what you’re playing, there’s pressure if you want to win. Well after all, for the Olympics, it’s everyone’s dream. Even though I’ve attended before, the desires you have towards the Olympics still are very strong.

I feel like your desire and motivation to win a championship will certainly give you pressure. Your intensity will definitely defeat the pressure, the dread, and the fear. I feel this very closely, because I feel like after all these years, we’ve gone through a lot to get to where we are today. I think we believe in ourselves. Coupled with the desire for the Olympics, we want to stand on the stage of the Olympics as soon as possible. Then I hope to be able to showcase myself. After all, walking down this road that we do, why do we persist? It is to stand on the Olympic podium.

Have you completed your Olympic preparations?

Although the Olympics have been postponed, our motivation and belief in our hearts has always been there. It feels like you don’t even have to finish saying the word Olympics, and our hair will raise. So even though sometimes we will adjust, maybe we’ll slow down our footwork since the timing and rhythm in the competition are not the same, the words Olympics are always there. We just have to say the words Olympics and we will mobilize ourselves into the zone. The power and desire inside of us is already there.

Hopefully during the final sprint of preparations, we can improve ourselves and make ourselves stronger, and hopefully we will have more confidence at the Olympics.

As an Olympic veteran, how will you guide other players?

I hope I can be useful to the team as a mentor. It’s not just technical things. I think it’s even more on the experience side in many ways, and I hope I can guide my teammates on the women’s team. I think they are undoubtedly very, very strong, but they do lack Olympic experience. Sometimes we will communicate and talk a bit. Once we walk into the Olympic Village, we are a unity, playing for our country, for our team. No matter what kind of task I undertake, I hop fulfill it to perfection. Then I hope that we can complete this task ahead of us to perfection.

What is it like to play mixed doubles as the first event at the Olympics?

It’s pretty good. I’m pretty happy that I’m able to take this responsibility. I’m also very happy that I’m able to complete it with everybody. Actually, before in some meetings and team interactions, I said I would try my best to share my experience with others. Then it feels like I have some value (laughs). Hopefully, I can help everyone, help this team, and in the process I’m also rewarded greatly.

What do the Olympics mean to you?

I believe it is a platform to improve yourself and conquer yourself.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out our translation of Ma Long’s and Fan Zhendong’s interview with WTT along with other interviews we have conducted and translated and the rest of our Olympic coverage.

Fan Zhendong Recounts Chinese Olympic Scrimmage Title

Fan Zhendong on the cover of table tennis world

Fan Zhendong was recently on the cover of Table Tennis World Magazine and recounted his results at the second leg of the Chinese Olympic Scrimmages, which he won by defeating Xu Xin 4-3 in the finals after falling into a 3-1 deficit. We provide a translation below.

The men’s singles final of the second leg of the Chinese Olympic Scrimmage in Nanyang was held between Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong. A long-anticipated matchup ignited the enthusiasm of the audience. Fan Zhendong lost three games after winning the first game. On the other side of the table was Xu Xin, who jumped up with his fists clenched. On this side of the table, Fan Zhendong was drenched with sweat. The off-court coach Wang Hao wrapped an ice bag with a towel and put it on the back of Fan Zhendong’s neck to cool him down. “The venue was very hot at the time. Xu Xin put a lot of pressure on me, and my own energy consumption was also very high. Cooling down was really useful for me, and it let me calm down a bit.”

  Fan Zhendong said that when a player is down, there will be two kinds of performances, mentally collapsing or biting down and fighting back. This is how he survived in the finals in Nanyang, and was able to re-group and play more resolutely. “I handled the seventh game better. There was only one game left. There was nothing left to save for later. We all stood on the same starting line. Whoever is more determined and who dares to take action can take the lead. So I kept pumping myself up, fought for every point, and didn’t wait for the opponent to make a mistake.” Fan Zhendong, who survived, won the men’s singles champion of the Nanyang leg of the Olympic Scrimmages.

  Soon after Fan Zhendong entered the training camp in Xiamen following the first leg of the Olympic Scrimmage, the national team announced the Olympic roster. He will participate in both singles and team events at the Tokyo Olympics. The announcement of the roster made Fan Zhendong feel that the picture before him was more specific. “The things to be done are also specific. After I understood the rigorous selection process, I felt that the responsibility and pressure on myself were more substantial. Then I looked at the second Nanyang leg of the Olympic scrimmages that was about to be held, and my desire to win and willingness to push through challenges was better than the first leg in Xinxiang [where Fan was upset by Zhou Qihao], and my mind was much more clear in the game.”

Fan Zhendong didn’t actually find the feeling of the game immediately after he arrived in Nanyang. “In the beginning, there were some fluctuations in my thoughts, and my technical state was not particularly good. From the first round, the matches were single-elimination. This is a little bit different feeling from having a group stage like in Xinxiang. But overall I was very active and I thinking of ways and getting myself into peak game-state.” 

After defeating Zhang Yudong 4-0 in the first game, he said without reservation: “Because I felt like the game was nothing special, I did not want to become too wrapped up in it. When the game started, I served more long serves and won several in a row, so the tactic was successful. I took the initiative to start a rally when things got uncomfortable, so that I would be more comfortable later.” When recalling the first game again, Fan Zhendong thought, “You must first understand yourself before developing tactics to fit your game. When formulating any tactics, you have a clear position for yourself before the game, and you can make the correct arrangements and decisions during the game.”

In the Nanyang scrimmage, the doubles match synchronized with the singles also helped Fan Zhendong better get into game state. “The competition and amount of running in doubles are not less than in singles. Although there are only the semi-finals and finals in doubles, the quality of the balls is high and requires great concentration. You only have these two games to feel that you’re playing better and better and getting into rhythm.”

On Saturday, May 29th, Fan Zhendong did not have a game on this day, and the whole day was spent in training, which made him feel thoroughly trained. “It was after this day of training. When I arrived at the day of my last match, I felt very concentrated and dedicated.” It was time for the finals. After actively getting into game state and training, Fan Zhendong, was able to withstand the pressure and nervousness, “especially in the sixth and seventh games [against Xu Xin], I obviously feel that my mentality was good and I was different than in previous games.”

 In an interview in Nanyang, Fan Zhendong said that after the Olympic list was released, what he did the most was to train his mind. What he practiced was to “control his emotions of anticipation and control the inner roller coaster in your heart.” This is Fan Zhendong’s first opportunity to stand in the current position to accept the test of the Olympics and to learn. After the competition was reduced due to the pandemic, Fan Zhendong, like all athletes, experienced a long period of training without specific competition goals.

 “I feel that training camps have been going on for a long time now. Before, I was even a little confused over whether it was normal training, camp training, or closed training. But now I have specific goals for the competition. As the game approaches, my emotions and mentality may change a lot. The specific feeling is that every day is different, I think differently, and I feel different pressure. It’s hard to say how big or small this pressure is, but it changes every day, and I also have prepared well and communicated more with my coach and teammates.”

After the Nanyang Station Olympic scrimmage, Fan Zhendong came to Weihai to participate in a closed training to make the final sprint to prepare for the Olympics. At the same time, he had to experience more scrimmages prepared by the pre-Olympic team. “If you only look at these games, you definitely hope to win. But if you take the Olympics as the goal, winning or losing the scrimmage is no longer the most important thing. Winning does not mean that everything is good. Losing does not mean that all is lost. I think the correct way to look at it is to look at winning or losing in the correct way. The time to the Olympics is getting shorter and shorter. Because of the pandemic, fewer games have become an objective situation. When there are games, I hope I can invest more immediately and I hope I can gain more in the preparation stage. “

In the training to prepare for the Olympics, and in the upcoming [closed-door] scrimmages, will Fan Zhendong, who often puts pressure on himself, put forward some requirements for himself? This time, Fan Zhendong said: “I want to go with how I’m feeling. If sometimes I am too tight and I can’t relax myself, then I’ll just loosen up. If it’s too relaxed, it won’t work either. I have to master this balance. The person who knows me best is myself. The person who can adjust me best is myself.” At the same time, Fan Zhendong, who understands himself, has a clear mind when talking about his own shortcomings. “In fact, there are some areas where I have not practiced in enough detail or thought about it enough. The neglected details will become difficult when it comes to the game, so what I have to do now is to practice more and explore myself more carefully.”

Looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics, Fan Zhendong believes that there are many unknowns in the Olympics due to the epidemic. “No athletes have had such experience before. I don’t know or imagine what the Olympics is like and what requirements are placed on the athletes. At this moment, I think the most important thing is the mentality. Be positive and calm, accept all kinds of situations that may happen, this is the most realistic thing for me to do.”

Although “emergency situations” cannot be simulated, Fan Zhendong said that he can be prepared in his mentality, “for example, stick to it when it is difficult, and grit your teeth when you are tired.” Fan Zhendong also said: “If I want to, I can also think about what psychological fluctuations I might have.” Olympic games and Olympic champions will occasionally appear in Fan Zhendong’s imagination. “But I don’t think too much, because it’s the first time for me to participate in the Olympics. I have no experience, no past, no simulation, no memories and lessons. For me, every game in the Olympic Games is very important. Every match is the finals.”

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated. Check out other interviews we have translated, including our exclusive interview with Kanak Jha.

Kanak Jha Discusses Olympic Preparations, New Club, and More

Kanak Jha serves against Liam Pitchford at the 2020 World Cup.

Edges and Nets is honored and excited to present our first exclusive interview with Kanak Jha. Jha is a household name in American table tennis, having won every single men’s singles national championship since 2016 for a record four consecutive titles.

On the international stage, Jha is the first American male in the modern era to break into the world’s table tennis elite. He is ranked in the top 30, and at age 21 is one of the game’s biggest rising stars. Since 2018, notable wins for Jha on the ITTF Pro Tour include (in order of recency) 2020 Japanese National Champion Uda Yukiya, 2021 Chinese Olympic Scrimmage Winner Zhou Qihao, Anton Källberg, Kristian Karlsson, Quadri Aruna, Wong Chun Ting, 2019 World Championship Bronze-Medalist An Jaehyun, and Lin Yun-Ju (whom the Chinese have identified as a top-two threat alongside Harimoto at the Tokyo Olympics).

In this interview, we discuss his new international training center in California, how training in the United States compares to training in Europe, competing with China, the Tokyo Olympics, mentally preparing for big tournaments, getting in competitive matches during the pandemic, and playing against stars he watched growing up.

On His New Club in San Francisco

The 2021 US Olympic Team (from left to right: Zhou Xin, Kanak Jha, Nikhil Kumar) wins first place at 888 Table Tennis Center’s grand opening team tournament. Source: 888tabletennis

This is your final sprint before the Olympics, and you’ve been in the United States for several months now. Where have you been training?

I’ve been in California [where Jha grew up and calls home] for the past three weeks, training at 888 Table Tennis Center. For those who don’t know, it’s a really amazing new center next to San Francisco Airport. It’s a great facility with great coaching staff including my personal coach for the last two years Jörg Bitzigeio, who is running it. It’s a really great international center—well, we hope to be an international center in the future—and I’ve been training with my other Olympic teammates there. So it’s been a really nice period for me, getting to be at home.

Have you primarily been training with Zhou Xin and Nikhil Kumar [the other two members of Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics], or are there other people?

Yes, exactly. So primarily with my teammates Zhou Xin and Nikhil. Lily Zhang is also here. And a couple of coaches around the [San Francisco] Bay Area are coming as well. Obviously, Jörg Bitzigeio is running the camp, and so like I said, it’s been a really nice training period and nice camp with my teammates. It’s not so often I’m home. I’m most of the time in Germany, in Europe, so it’s nice to be home, and yeah, it’s a good period.

Can you tell me about how the idea for this club came about, how you got involved, and what your role in the club is right now?

I’m not an expert in the details, but I think the club has been in the making for some time. And I always get updates about how the progress is going, and it’s really exciting now that it’s finished. There are not so many clubs in the US in general and the Bay Area, and this is definitely the largest one [in the Bay Area] and I want to say the largest in the country.

If you’re ever in the San Francisco area and play table tennis, I would definitely recommend for you to check it out. It’s such a great center, and I really think that it has the potential to be an international center, especially where it’s located, near San Francisco Airport. And this weekend we have a tournament here, in which all of my other Olympic teammates and I will be participating in, and it’s kind of like the grand opening of the center. So I’m a representative for this center, and I’m really proud to be a part of 888. And I just really hope it can become an international huge center in the future and have training opportunities for all levels when they come here.

On Training in the United States

Kanak Jha doing a 3-point forehand drill at 888 Table Tennis Center. Source: 888tabletennis

Do you see yourself training full-time in the US in the near future?

Next season I will be in Ochsenhausen, my [German Bundesliga] club from this season. It’s hard to see it [training full-time in the US], just because in Europe and Asia, table tennis is just such a sport that has been there for so long, it’s such a popular sport, and the Europeans and Asians are so strong in table tennis. Right now, to be a professional player, if you really want to reach a world class level, you kind of have to live there if you want to reach the top.

But it’s already great to have a high-level center here, and now definitely when I’m home and coming back time to time, I can train there. I would love in the future if it would be possible to train here full time, and hopefully, hopefully, that will be a possibility in the future.

So you’ve been here for a while, and I wanted to ask you about how it’s different from Europe.

Yeah, it’s a really huge difference to be honest between training in Europe and here in the US, where I’ve been training since I was a kid. [In the US] it’s primarily driven by private lessons if you want to practice table tennis and really want to improve [as a kid].

But it’s a different culture here in the US, because we don’t have full-time professional players. We don’t have so many full time clubs where you have a lot of other players to play with, so it’s mostly just private lessons and paying [a private coach] per hour and trying to improve with coaching. Meanwhile, in Europe, you’re really in a center in a club with many other professional players in a group setting.

So I think it definitely does have disadvantages and advantages. One of the advantages from being in the US is that we have a lot of young kids whose techniques are oftentimes more advanced than in Europe, because we get to train with high-level coaches, so our technical level, our techniques start out at a higher level than Europeans at a young age. But as you get older you definitely need to be playing with other professional players in a group setting. [In a group setting] you can always play matches, you can block for real-life table tennis settings that more closely resemble the match. There’s only so much you can play with a [private] coach.

So I do think you need a bit of both, but I think the biggest difference is there’s a group setting in general when you’re training in Europe, which is very helpful when you’re reaching a higher level. Because there’s really only so much you can train against on one side against a block or just practicing one way [with a coach], versus when you’re playing with someone on the other side of the table who also really wants to improve and also wants to win the point. And that pushes everyone forward together, just being in that atmosphere all the time.

But these days, you are training in a group right?

Yeah.

And is it just the four US men’s team members and Lily?

Yeah, and maybe one or two more. I don’t know if you know like Bob Chen. But yeah, mostly it’s just us.

Ok. Another thing I wanted to ask you about your training is that I think it’s fair to say that you’re the strongest in the group by a pretty undebatable margin.

Uh, you can say that I’m ranked the highest.

And in Germany, there are some players who are higher ranked than you. Do you see any advantages or disadvantages of training like this, where in my opinion, you are pretty obviously ahead of the pack.

It’s always good in some ways to practice with players at a stronger level than you, so you can see what they’re doing better, what makes them such a top player. But at the same time, for me personally, the most important thing in training is you know what you’re working on. If you come to the table with a goal and you know what you need to practice, then in that regard you don’t really need the highest level of sparring partner or someone who’s much better than you if you know what you’re working on and what you’re doing.

So I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s always nice to play with players better than you, and you could say it’s more fun compared to if you play with someone at your own level, but at the same time the most important thing is that when you come to the table, you know what you’re working on, you have a goal of what you’re practicing in, and in that case, training will always be beneficial.

On Competing With China

Leaked (low-resolution) image of the poster of China’s tiers of rivals. This poster is in the training hall of the Chinese National Team leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. Kanak Jha (hilighted in red) is considered third-tier.

So some of the Japanese players, I’m thinking of Mima Ito in particular, they’re kind of famous for not wanting to train with the Chinese, and they want to stay in their own unit. Although she misses the chance to train with them and collaborate with them, I’m guessing her choice not to train with them gives her innovations a stronger competitive advantage. Can you talk more about this trade-off?

I think in general in table tennis, everyone’s goal is to beat the Chinese. I mean for those who themselves are not Chinese, obviously. So you see there are a lot of advantages like in the clubs in Europe, there are a lot of international players from different parts of the world. We can learn from each other and practice with each other, and see what you’ve done successfully, what your knowledge of the game may be more than mine that I can learn from.

I mean at the end of the day, the Chinese really are the best by a lot. Obviously, the Japanese are also very good, but to beat the Chinese is really the ultimate goal. I think the way we can improve, you see that the Chinese, they have these big centers with so many players on their national team for training, and we just don’t have that amount of players or those conditions in Europe or the rest of the world. So it definitely helps when we train together, that we can all improve and hopefully fight against them in the future.

I see. So you know China has that thing where they rank their rivals into tiers, you’re tier three right now.

I saw that. I saw that.

Do you agree with that assessment, and do you have a timeline for when you want to be tier one?

(laughs) Well first I need to say that it’s pretty cool that I’m there in general. I mean, growing up, I would never think that China, anyone on the national team, would know who I am. So just to know I’m there is pretty cool. I haven’t really put much thought into what tier I am. I’m kind of focused on myself and improving. But yeah, it’s pretty cool to know that I’m on their radar, and I hope in the future to keep improving and maybe challenge them hopefully. And I guess that’s the goal of myself, and of course, many other players.

On the Tokyo Olympics

Kanak Jha sets a record at the 2016 Rio Olympics as the first US Olympian (across all sports) born in the year 2000 or later. Source: Sports Illustrated

Do you have any specific goals for Tokyo in terms of where you finish?

For me personally, I really just want to take it round by round. I mean the Olympics are such a unique event. It’s only the best players in the world coming there, so I know how difficult it will be. I definitely feel like I’ve improved a lot every year actually since Rio, which was my first Olympics, and I was very young, so definitely there are a little more expectations than last time, but I just want to take it round by round. And like I said, it’s such a strong event, so it’s definitely going to be extremely challenging from the beginning.

Do you think you’re going to be more nervous this time compared to 2016 because of the expectations, or do you think maybe it’ll be easier this time mentally since it’s your second time?

It’s hard to say. It’s a little hard to compare, but the pressure will always be there regardless of how many Olympics you play. It’s impossible not to have pressure. The most important thing is how you deal with the pressure.

But really, I try to really not to think about it so much. I’m just more focused on myself and improving every day and getting into top shape. When I’m training well before a competition, like I am now, it helps me to gain confidence to feel good going into the event. So the most important thing for me is just to have a lot of confidence and feel good about myself going into the Games, and then not worry too much about how far I reach.

On His Mental Game

Kanak Jha pushes a ball en route to winning his record fourth consecutive national title in 2019.
Kanak Jha pushes a ball en route to winning his record fourth consecutive national title in 2019. Source: USATT

So when the Chinese talk about their preparation for a big event, it’s always just mental, mental, mental, mental, mental. Do you feel like it’s the same for you, or do you also worry about physical or technical stuff?

So for the Chinese, I think their technical skill is at a higher level than almost everyone else in the world, so they know mentally if they can be focused and just be able to play their normal game, that can already be enough to go far in a tournament.

Yeah, I think mental really is the biggest thing. At the end of the day, everyone can play at a high level, especially at the Olympics. Being in the top 100 versus top 30, the [technical] differences can oftentimes be small, so it’s a lot of mental, how well you can impose your game onto the [opposing] player, how good your tactics are coming into the match, and those things often make the difference between winning and losing when both players are already playing at a high level.

Mentally, do you feel like it’s different playing an international event versus at US Nationals, where you’re a heavy favorite, and I mean you’re basically like China at the US Nationals. Do you feel like preparing for Nationals is just completely mental at that point and is the mental preparation different from an international event?

Yeah, I think the Nationals in the last two or three years I’ve played, I’ve been the favorite. So it’s definitely a different kind of pressure in its way, because you kind of expect yourself to win, but at the same time, you have to realize that being the top seed versus actually winning are two very different things. Everyone is hungry to beat you. You’re the main guy to beat. It’s also easy to relax yourself, saying I’m the top seed, I should already be thinking of the semi-finals, and that’s really the wrong way to go at it.

Regardless of whether it’s a US Nationals or an international event, I always try to come in with the same mindset, which is just to be 100 percent prepared, 100 percent focused from the first round, and that’s how I always want to free myself into a tournament mentally.

To get into a good mental state right before a tournament, is there a certain preparation that you do? Like matches or something?

Yeah, it depends a lot on which tournament also. In general, I just try to make myself in good shape. As the days get closer to the tournament, it’s more like individual, I’d say how I feel, what I would like to do, what I would like to practice and work on.

And yeah, mentally, it’s more of just trying to adjust. If you’re feeling nervous, just try to relax. If you’re feeling too relaxed, then maybe pump yourself up the day before, maybe try to really get yourself motivated to play. You always want to try to find a balance between feeling really confident and positive but at the same time having a little bit of that pressure inside so that you know you’re going to have an edge.

On Getting Competitive Matchplay Leading Up to Tokyo

Kanak Jha's Bundesliga team at Ochsenhausen. From left to right: Samuel Kulczycki, Simon Gauzy, Hugo Calderano, Kanak Jha, Maciek Kubik
Kanak Jha’s German Bundesliga team at Ochsenhausen. From left to right: Samuel Kulczycki, Simon Gauzy, Hugo Calderano, Kanak Jha, Maciek Kubik. Source: TTF Ochsenhausen.

I’ve seen chatter that it’s hard to get in competitive matches these days due to COVID. The Europeans have ETTC going on, and the Asians have their own internal things going on. Do you feel like the team tournament this weekend [at 888 Table Tennis Club] is close to that?

Yeah. First, going into Tokyo, it’s a really different feeling compared to a normal event, just because there’s been no real international competition for such a long time. That’s something that’s not really normal in the table tennis scene. You’re used to playing a lot of international events, competing a lot, and now there’s really been no events for such a long period, so it’ll definitely be a little different feeling than a normal preparation.

That’s why I’m also really happy that we’re having an event this weekend where we can compete a bit and play some serious high-level matches and get yourself into the groove and see what is working, what is not working, and mentally try to get yourself into that competitive state and competitive feeling.

Given how few matches there are these days, is there a reason you chose not to play in Qatar [WTT Doha] in March?

During the Qatar Open, I was actually at home in California. It had been a long stretch for me in Germany, about ten or ten-and-a-half months that I hadn’t been able to come home. So my thought process was, at the time there was supposed to be a China Hub after Qatar, and I think there were supposed to be two events there. I think they originally planned four [including Qatar]. There would have been two events in China, and that was my original plan, to focus on the China Hub. They were also a little more important in terms of ranking.

But unfortunately afterwards, that got cancelled due to COVID. So it’s a bit unfortunate. If I knew that ahead of time, I definitely would have competed [in Qatar], but we live in a time of uncertainty, so we have to live with it.

So you really haven’t played competitively since like February then?

Yeah, I want to say my last international tournament was maybe in October, the Men’s World Cup in China.

You had other stuff like the German Cup in early 2021 though, right?

Yeah, then I think I competed competitively last time in like March, maybe. It’s definitely been a while, and the international stage is different from even the [German] league. So it’s still nice to play a tournament now this weekend and compete a bit.

On Some of His Recent Matches Against Top Stars

Kanak Jha celebrates a point against Chaung Chih-Yuan at the Men's World Cup in October 2020
Kanak Jha celebrates a point against Chaung Chih-Yuan at the Men’s World Cup in October 2020. Source: ITTF.

So at the World Cup, you almost beat Chuang Chih-Yuan [Kanak lost deuce in the seventh]. Based on my understanding, he’s been your favorite player for a while now. How was that? Were you starstruck or anything? Did you talk to him about that?

Actually it’s my second time playing him. I also played him in the 2019 Omar Open, and he beat me really convincingly there, so I was kind of disappointed with my performance there. I played quite badly. Maybe I was a little bit excited in 2019 to play him, because I mean I never expected to play him growing up, you know.

But this time, honestly I treated it like a normal match. It’s a World Cup, and once you get on the table, you just want to win. That’s what my mindset was, so I really wasn’t thinking of anything else.

But definitely still, even after playing him, I have even more respect for him, how great he is, how great he still is at his age. He’s definitely a fantastic player, and it’s one of the reasons he’s my favorite player.

So shortly after that, you played the German Cup, where you played Timo Boll and Shang Kun. For those matches, you lost both of those 3-0, but in pretty much every game, you were pretty close until the end. And then they get you with like a serve or something. For you, is that a mental thing, or is that just something that happens when you play stronger players, or is it just a problem reading their serves, or what?

Yeah, in general, top players’ serve and receive game is really important. You not only have to receive the ball, you have to receive it with a lot of quality, so that they don’t attack you aggressively on the next shot.

It’s cool, it was my first time playing Timo. He beat me 3-0. As you said, the sets maybe were a little bit close, but still it was quite convincing. It’s always cool to play against top players, because you can really feel their balls and really see up close what you can really never see on video, what they’re doing so well. So it’s always great to play against them and kind of learn what they’re doing that makes them so special.

I see. And do you feel like they’re playing better at the end of the games compared to the beginning of the games, when you’re able to keep the score tighter?

I think in general for all levels when you’re playing someone at a higher technical level than you, the ending is where you can really feel that the most. Whether it’s just because they’re a little more confident in their abilities or a little more experienced, in decisive moments is what really separates higher-level players from players who are not at their level. And I think that holds for all stages of table tennis.

I guess nobody that you’re training with has serves as good as Timo Boll. How do you practice your serve return under such circumstances?

I train more by myself and not to receive a specific player’s serve, so I’m working on my receive in general and my shots in general. But when you lose to a player where you have a problem, a pretty obvious problem, like you can’t receive or you have problems with their receive, it’s always good to take a look at that and work on that. But most of the time, I’m training just for myself to work on my own shots and that will anyway apply in the match regardless of who I’m playing against.

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Fan Zhendong Interview With WTT About Olympics Preparations

Fan Zhendong talking to WTT

Fan Zhendong recently sat down for an interview with WTT to discuss what the Olympics mean to him and his Olympic preparations. Edges and Nets has aggregated and translated several of his questions and answers. Sources: here, here, here.

What do the Olympics mean to you?

It is what everyone desires. This is the biggest stage, and it is the platform to show your best.

First things first, I need to make sure I execute to my abilities. This is the most fundamental. If you are pressured by the stakes and the atmosphere and let yourself choke, then you have not fulfilled the most basic goal and expectation of such a grand event. Because I feel like on such a big stage, I should be even more eager and even more urgent to showcase my abilities and to broadcast all the abilities and skills I have trained from my childhood up to this moment. And then, of course, I hope to prove myself on this stage and achieve the results I want. So I think my first priority is to display my skills, and then it is to win and prove myself.

Why do you have a blister on your hand?

Recently, I’ve been experimenting, including a new racquet, which doesn’t yet have a perfect fit. My original racquet was also the same model, but for these big competitions, obviously the more detailed your preparations the better. So I am going to prepare more racquets, and I will pick the one that fits well.

How many racquets have you prepared, and how many will you bring to the Olympics?

I don’t know yet. Sometimes, you try a racquet, and it immediately feels good, but sometimes you try it, and over time it feels better and better. Every racquet is different, both when selecting it and playing with it. So I’m just preparing now. The team requirement is to have a main and a spare, and the two racquets need to be roughly identical. For me, I’d say two or three, but we’ll see how many I like.

Do you feel anxious in your Olympic preparations?

In fact, I think this preparation time can definitely help people grow, but you don’t know if you can grow to the level that you need to achieve. In fact, I can also feel that people around me can feel that I’m changing. However, sometimes when you are anxious or feel uncomfortable in your heart, it’s not because you feel that you are not growing, but because you may feel that you are not growing fast enough, or I haven’t reached the way I want, so I think the point of anxiety is actually here. As I said just now, I just need to give myself more positive feedback and give myself more confidence.

Do you feel that you are not good enough in any particular area?

Of course. It feels like the closer we get, the more I feel like I don’t have enough time. It feels like there are many areas I have not trained enough, or there are many areas I have not prepared for, and then suddenly the tournament arrives. This is a normal emotion. It means you are eager, or that you’re ready to seize this game and opportunity. If you think you are ready, I don’t think that is a mentality ready to face a big tournament. I don’t think it’s easy [to be ready], so there’s no need to force myself to a certain standard or to cheat myself or whatever. I just need to accept it.

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Kasumi Ishikawa and Mima Ito Interviews On Olympics and More

Mima Ito's iconic serve

As the Tokyo Olympics rapidly approach, Mima Ito and Kasumi Ishikawa have made several comments to Japanese media. Furthermore, Ishikawa is allegedly in talks to be the vice-captain for the host country Japan (across all sports) at the Tokyo Olympics. We have aggregated and translated several of their comments and interviews below.

Mima Ito Is Ready for the Olympics

Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito playing mixed doubles.
Ito and Mizutani Playing Mixed Doubles

Various Chinese and Japanese media outlets have reported on Mima Ito’s comments to Japanese media on June 24.

After Chinese media reported that Ito allegedly claimed that she had figured out how to beat Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha in May, Ito’s confidence remains high: “This time is different from the Rio Olympics, because this Olympics are in Japan. It feels unbelievable, but I am very confident and hope I can prepare coolly and calmly as usual. Even if tomorrow is the Olympics, it’s no problem. I will aggressively prepare with the mindset “in order to get the three golds [women’s singles, women’s team, mixed doubles], I must win.””

Ito also reportedly explicitly stated, “I will do my best to bring back three gold medals.”

Ito had an interesting comment regarding playing mixed doubles: “When I’m playing doubles, my body and legs move. It also makes my head spin and I get very tired, but it’s a very fun event.”

Kasumi Ishikawa Interview with “Big Kasumi” Creators

Ishikawa did an interview with the creators of the “Big Kasumi” statue. This interview was published on June 25.

There is roughly one month until the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Please give us your goals and level of enthusiasm.
With only one month left, I’m feeling more nervous, and I’m getting more and more excited.

What are your thoughts on seeing “Big Kasumi”?
I was very surprised.

It’s real, and I’m very happy to see the completion because I had many cameras shoot it when I asked them to make it.

What kind of adjustments and preparations have you made for the Olympics so far? And where will you prepare for the your final sprint?
Unlike the previous Olympic Games, I think that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held without any international competition beforehand, so I want to make adjustments so that I leave no regrets. I’m also in really good physical condition. I also want to be careful and stand on the court [presumably, Ishikawa is concerned about her lower back injury that caused her to withdraw from an internal Japanese tournament several months ago].

You said that you will be participating in the [Japanese] league from June 24th. Please tell us the purpose of participating in the match before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Being in the league from June 24th, just before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, is a very valuable opportunity for me. So I will play each game and execute what I have done and what I have practiced. I wish I could start the battle.

How is your current condition out of 100?
I think it’s about 70 percent. I’d like to raise it a little more by the time I go to the game and get to about 90 percent until I get on the court, so I’d like to make adjustments for another month.

Lastly, please share your enthusiasm.
I want to play at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics without regrets. I think the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be in a difficult situation, but I want to play without regrets for myself. I want to stand on the court, and I want to make the remaining one month a fulfilling one.

Kasumi Ishikawa Interview Reported By Yahoo Sports

On June 27, Yahoo Sports posted an interview (in Japanese) with Kasumi Ishikawa. We have translated select questions and answers from this interview.

Kasumi Ishikawa magazine cover taken from Yahoo Sports article

In some interviews, you said, “Recently, I’ve become able to speak with my true intentions.” What is your feeling about that?

After all, there were no matches due to the pandemic, and it was the first time in my life as a table tennis player that I hadn’t had such a match, and I think I was able to become a natural person in a good way.

For over 20 years since you started playing table tennis, you’ve been practicing hard at the top level.

If I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t do it at all (laughs). I think it’s difficult to maintain your level even with the minimum practice. Of course, it’s difficult to raise the level no matter how many years you’ve been doing it. If I try to do it at this level, I know that I can’t do it unless I practice hard, so I wonder if I’ll do it.

On the other hand, after winning the All Japan Championship, there was a comment that “I have been enjoying practicing recently.”

I’ve had a time when I couldn’t play a match this year due to the pandemic, and now I feel like I have to have fun. Of course, there are some tough and painful exercises, but I think it’s a waste not to enjoy this time now, whether it’s a match or practice.

Have you made any specific changes in your daily practice with that idea?

You’re doing more and more of the practice you want to do. The practice you have to do and the practice you want to do are probably a little different. There are other exercises I want to do, but I don’t think I have to do this, I’ll do more and more exercises I want to do. I haven’t done so much until now, but if I enjoy myself, I will continue to do what I want to do. Then, new exercises and things I want to do will come out, and I’m wondering if it will be fun again.

The Tokyo Olympics are finally approaching.

After all, I think it will be the first and last time to participate in the Tokyo Olympics once every four years, so rather than just looking at the feelings and results of enjoying it on the special stage of the Tokyo Olympics. I want to have fun, cherish the process, and feel that there is a result after that. I want to enjoy the situation I am in now, both in practice and in games.

Have you ever felt that you like table tennis again recently?

After all, I think I like table tennis because it’s fun to feel the joy of being able to do things after practice that I previously couldn’t do. The joy of being able to do something that didn’t work is the same as when I started playing table tennis.

Does the process of mastering a technique that you previously couldn’t do feel like you can just suddenly do it at one point?

There are various things. Sometimes you can do it suddenly, and sometimes you just have to do it. But after all that, I forget what I remembered. So, in the end, I think that people who can remember it often forget it, so if I try to remember it, I think it’s impossible if I don’t do it.

Do you sometimes suddenly become able to do it during a match?

Oh, that’s right. When you suddenly feel like “let’s try”, I think it’s a time when you feel positive, so that’s a good time. Whether it works or not. It feels like it doesn’t have to be included, so I was able to do that in the past, so now I’m thinking of doing it while cherishing it.

Do you feel a gap between the image of Ishikawa in society and yourself?

Well, I don’t really know what society thinks about me, so I don’t know (laughs)

Sure. I’m sorry…

Ah, but I really speak a lot, but I wonder if I think I don’t speak much. Someone I met for the first time said “I speak more than I expected” about 5 times, recently (laughs).

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule!

Thank you very much.

Kasumi Ishikawa on the Japanese League

In this section, Edges and Nets has aggregated several of Ishikawa’s post-game remarks on the Japanese league. Sources: here, here, here.

“It’s a rare opportunity for a real battle, so I’d like to actively show what I’ve been practicing and find out what was good and what was bad. Today, the serve is very good and the opponent disliked it.”

“It was a great experience to be able to play a lot of games with strong players before the Olympics, and it was great to be able to play at this timing. One month left until the Olympics. I want to be well prepared so that I won’t regret it and do my best to play the best.”

“I’m very happy because it’s been a long time since I entered the Japan League, so I’m very happy. There were a lot of games. I think the backhand was good this time. There was a part that led to scoring, and I was able to put out a lot of what I had practiced in the games, so I was very confident. It was a good experience to be able to play against a strong player in a tense atmosphere. I will do my best to play the best at the Olympics by preparing well so that I will not regret the remaining one month.”

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Liu Guoliang Downplays Expectations and Reiterates Need For Mental Strength Heading Into Tokyo

Liu Guoliang recently downplayed gold-medal expectations, reiterated the need for mental strength, and praised the internal Chinese scrimmages for the Tokyo Olympics. Liu made these remarks to Chinese media during a ceremony in which the Olympic dragon uniforms were revealed. Edges and Nets has aggregated and translated several of his comments below. Original Chinese media articles can be found here, here, and here.

Coaches Double Down On Mental Strength

The Chinese National Team has been quite consistent in emphasizing mental strength as the most important factor heading into the Tokyo Olympics. In addition to Ma Long and Deng Yaping’s recent comments, Coach Wang Nan stated that the players must have confidence in their abilities and preparations.

In Wang’s view, the Olympics are different from normal competitions. The players need to accept and adapt to the heightened mental stress, execute to their normal level under the stress, and avoid having the stress of the Olympics negatively affect their play. Maintain your technique, keep your opponent’s tactics and habits burned in your mind, and leave nothing to regret.

Consistent with his colleagues, Liu also emphasized the importance of mental strength, stating that “As the Olympic Games are approaching, athletes will have a clearer vision of it. They need to undergo a process in their mentality transition and try to find their rhythm in preparation.”

Liu also noted the delicate nature of maintaining a good mental state: “If you are in a good state now, it does not mean that you are in a good state for the Tokyo Olympics; if you are in a bad state now, it does not mean that you are in a bad state for the Tokyo Olympics.”

When discussing China’s women’s singles roster, Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, neither who have played in the Olympics before, Liu stated, “Every Olympic Games has people who participated for the first time, and they played well for the first time. The most important thing is what kind of mentality they use. If the mentality is good, the psychological pressure will be better handled, and there won’t be too much of an emotional burden on them.”

Liu Downplays Expectations

Although many have China as a shoo-in for gold in each of the Olympic table tennis events, Liu interestingly decided to downplay expectations, “We have the strength to win each of the five gold medals, and we have to confidence to do so. However, there are challenges and risks, especially considering the pace and manner of preparation is quite different in the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the nature of table tennis.”

At least in the women’s events, this remark is in contrast with Deng Yaping’s (who by the looks of things may not be as intimately involved with the national team as Liu) comments last week that Mima Ito was not a serious threat to the Chinese National Team. Liu appeared to have more positive words for their Japanese rivals, stating that “the Japanese table tennis team has been preparing for the Tokyo Olympics for many years, and especially hopes to beat the Chinese team at home, but I think they will give us more motivation. We need such an opponent, and we need such a competition to test the team.”

For what it’s worth, both Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani appear to be confident in their ability to upset China in at least the women’s singles and mixed doubles events.

Liu’s remarks appear to be aimed at relieving pressure from the team and getting them into the desired mental state. “I hope that our players and coaches will not have a burden of sweeping Olympic gold medals like in previous occasions… We cannot carry what we achieved in Rio into these Games, and we have to start from zero in Tokyo.”

“No matter which event, we are determined to win every gold medal. But competitive sports has ups and downs and wins and losses. This is all part of the game, so we don’t put too much pressure on everyone. If you don’t have pressure, you won’t be able to play well, but if you’re under too much pressure, you won’t be able to play well either. Keep a normal mind, put out what you practice, and strive for every piece of work. It’s not about which event is more secure [e.g. team events] and which event we are at risk of losing [e.g. mixed doubles].”

Ma Long at the closed Chinese Olympic Scrimmages

Remarks on the Final Closed Door Training

After the second leg of the Chinese Olympic scrimmages that were broadcast to the public, the National Team has been in closed-door training in Weihai for about 20 days. Liu Guoliang said that the focus of this period is to strengthen the ability and strength of the players. “It’s relatively easy to get out of form in the middle of closed training for about 20 days. This time, everyone’s ability and feeling of competition are better than those in the previous two (Olympic scrimmages). For the last scrimmage, we hope to be more realistic. We expect to be more detailed tactically and in simulating potential Olympic opponents.”

Liu further commented on the utility of the closed-door scrimmages that were held this week, which featured several upsets against the Olympic team including Lin Gaoyuan over Xu Xin, Wang Manyu over Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, Zhou Qihao over Fan Zhendong, and Zhang Rui over Sun Yingsha. Liu stated, “It served as a test midway through our training. Competing with a more specific target, our players can feel the competitiveness of the games and dig out problems.”

There will be a final closed-door scrimmage on July 8 to July 10. We may expect to see fewer upsets in this scrimmage as Liu further elaborated the differences between the goals of the initial and final scrimmages: “There are warm-up matches before, during and at the end of the closed training, which can play different roles. The early stage is mainly to test the strength, the mid-term test is the improvement and progress of the players after the closed training in the early stage, and the latter is intended to be the final run-in and preparation.”

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Check out  Deng Yaping’s recent comments on the Tokyo Olympics, other interviews, and the rest of our Olympic coverage as well!

Deng Yaping: Mima Ito Is Not A Serious Threat to China

Coach Deng Yaping recently made several statements to Chinese media regarding the Chinese women’s team’s Olympic preparations and their most serious threat, Mima Ito. A translation of the linked article is provided below.

There are only a little more than 30 days left before the Tokyo Olympics. For the last few days, the Chinese National Team has been preparing for the final stage in Chengdu. As the “first generation big devil” of Chinese and World Women’s Table Tennis, Deng Yaping accepted an interview with Titan [the outlet that wrote the article] reporters. She believes that during this time the players most need to control the rhythm, and the number one opponent Mima Ito does not pose a real threat.

The closed training camp of the national table tennis has come to the final sprint stage. In the last month or so, what should be paid attention to? Deng Yaping, who has rich experience in competitions, especially the Olympics, said that the players should slowly enter the mental game state. After all, the Olympics are still more than a month. They can’t adjust their emotional excitement instantly but instead need to adjust, strengthen and improve it according to the results of the warm-up matches, and gradually deepen it.

“Different from preparing for the previous Olympic Games, there has virtually never been a situation of training without competition. How do we transition slowly from warm-up matches to Olympic competitions? Because the timeline of the Olympic table tennis matches is longer than the usual World Championships, World Cup and Pro Tour events, so we need to control the rhythm, because the competitive state is a very delicate thing. You can’t come out too early, and you can’t come out too late.”

The veteran players are more experienced to deal with this point, so Deng Yaping also said that this is the function of experience: “The veteran players have better experience and control over their nerves. They know that they need to be fully invested in the mental game and a bit excited, but before the game they need to control own excitement and know how much effort to use against the opponent. But at this point, one of our national team’s strong points is the coach’s control of the athletes, so we don’t need to worry about it.”

Speaking of veterans, the two veterans of the women’s table tennis players, between Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, who participated in the last Olympic Games and won gold [in the team event], Ding withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics competition early, and Liu was passed over for Olympic women’s singles qualification. For Deng Yaping, this is a normal thing. As veteran players, they should have been able to understand and accept such a process very early.

“Any athlete has a peak period and a decline period. Competitive sports will always have a cycle. There will always be someone who will retire. Young people will always come up. The national table tennis team has always had a tradition of passing on help. I believe this arrangement must be approved by the coaching staff. As a result of many deliberations, everyone has their own career, and everyone must stick to their position.”

Therefore, the women’s singles representing the Chinese women’s table tennis team in the Tokyo Olympics will be Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, who have never experienced Olympic experience. However, Deng Yaping is not worried about their performance: “They have played in world competitions, and they all showed their level. Being able to stand out from the top players in the national table tennis team fully demonstrates their due strength. Although the Olympics is different from other competitions, their competition experience is still rich.”

For their first Olympic journey, Deng Yaping said that the most important thing is their mentality: “Their technical and tactical abilities are definitely not problematic. The main thing is how they think. Don’t think it’s the Olympics, then they will be burdened with the pressure they shouldn’t bear. They cannot think too much about winning or that the two of us must win the championship. We should focus on every opponent and every match.”

With the two Olympic novices and Liu Shiwen, an experienced veteran, Deng Yaping believes that such a female table tennis trio is a very stable and comprehensive lineup for the Olympics: “The three of them happen to be the three generations of the old, middle and youth in the team. Experience, stability, impact, lineup changes can make various changes to opponents, and I look forward to their performance.”

In Tokyo, the biggest opponent of Chinese women’s table tennis is the Japanese team, or Mima Ito, whose face and name are also printed largely on the wall of the national table tennis training hall. Many people say that Mima Ito is small and mobile and fights hard, resembling Deng Yaping. So can she break through the wall that is the Chinese National Team?

Deng Yaping said: “The Chinese Women’s table tennis indeed has very few rivals. Ito is certainly a threat, but how strong is she? I don’t think so. She is indeed unique, but the strength is not strong enough, so we don’t respect her strategically. If we pay attention to her tactically and prepare carefully, I think it is enough. Although she has a good storyline [e.g. homecourt in Tokyo], there is no need to make her so mythical. Our Chinese players have the advantage and confidence to defeat her.”

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