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].”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Ma Long recently sat down with WTT (World Table Tennis) to discuss various aspects of his preparation for the Olympics, what the Olympics mean to him, and what motivates him. The original interview (in Mandarin) can be found on the WTT Weibo account. We have provided a translation below.
How does it feel to prepare for your third Olympic games [Ma played the team event in 2012 and singles and teams in 2016]?
Normal, I guess. Anyway, certainly before the competition, you feel that your mentality and technical condition are not fully prepared, but sometimes that’s how competition is. For the high-pressure tournaments you may give yourself the highest possible standards, and during training you may never reach those standards, but come competition time you might find that you actually play to those standards.
The Olympics won’t happen twice in my life, and it’s the tournament of everyone’s dreams, so I need to give it my all and chase after it. I feel like if I don’t approach it this way then it will leave me with regret.
I think my experience may help me, but it may also hurt me as well; because I may approach this Olympics like it’s my first Olympics or my second, but your playing condition including your age, current developments in the world table tennis stage, and your opponent’s playing condition are all not the same, so it will not be completely the same as my rhythm last time. I still need to try to cooperate with my teammates to make some adjustments.
However, I think the most important thing is that my mental preparation needs to be even better than before, because previously I had nothing, so I can only go all out. After playing to a certain mental state, you may know that when you really want it, you actually end up not being able to hit your shots. Only when you are extremely relaxed and until the competition can you really find your best playing condition. You cannot find that during training. So sometimes during training, I still aim for perfection, but not for that unachievable perfection.
Everyone is using you as a role model. How do you feel about it?
This is a responsibility and it’s also a source of motivation. I hope that I can do an even better job and continue to maintain it. At the same time, over the last few years, their aggressiveness, including their yearning, to a certain extent has also given me a lot of motivation. I hope that when I’m tired and see these young teammates next to me and how they still have energy, this atmosphere can drive me further. So I think we can help motivate each other.
What do the Olympics mean to you?
I think the Olympics are the most important battle of an athlete’s life. After you win it, you think that winning the Olympics is a very important achievements. It is like graduating from a top university. Sometimes you also feel that the Olympics truly can bring you glory to last a lifetime and allow you to perform on the biggest stage. After you win the Olympics, you feel like you will remember it for a lifetime, so all athletes would like to play on this stage.
What motivated you to play in your third Olympic games?
On the one hand, the mentality and desire to win is still there. It may also be that although I haven’t won any [major] championships in the last year, I have still had some victories during this entire process, and these victories give me confidence. I think that [the confidence from winning] is very important for athletes.
Of course it also has something to do with passion. Passion is what regularly motivates me during training, but the desire for victory is also what motivates me. When you hold these two together, then you get my current level of persistence. If you only have passion but no victory, then your confidence may be affected. If you only like the game but have no love, and you only rely on the competition, then you have no guarantees and may not be able to persist. I think if both of these are present, I can maintain my persistence for the Olympics.
Jun Mizutani recently sat down with a Japanese table tennis reporter to discuss the Tokyo Olympics, the pandemic, Tomokazu Harimoto, playing doubles with Koki Niwa as two lefties, playing doubles with Mima Ito, and life after table tennis. Edges and Nets has provided an English translation below. All photos in this post are taken from the original website of the interview.
Please note that this translation was done via Google Translate with corrections for obvious mis-translations of table tennis terms; no Japanese speakers were involved. Translating Japanese pronouns into English gives Google Translate difficulties, and we did our best to correct the pronoun mistranslations to match the context, but there may still be errors.
On the Pandemic
First of all, I would like you to look back on the 2020-21 season. I think it was a difficult situation due to the pandemic, but what kind of year was it?
Mizutani: There were few matches, so I couldn’t confirm my condition. The only thing that was big was that the T-League was held for one season. Unfortunately, Kinoshita Meister Tokyo [Mizutani’s team] couldn’t achieve the third straight victory, but as an individual, I was able to win 13 singles, so I think it wasn’t bad.
How would you rate your performance on a scale to 100?
Around 70 points? I think there is still room for growth.
Please tell us your feelings when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, which should have ended before the opening of the T-League last year.
In many ways, I had the feeling that it was “quite difficult.” All domestic and international games are gone, and I don’t know when I can play. There were various restrictions on practicing. I had never had such an experience, so I had a really hard time.
I think it was difficult to maintain motivation.
That’s right. Even though I thought “I have to do my best for the Olympics!”, I sometimes felt depressed, “I wonder if it will be held …”. There was a wave in my feelings. But now that the event is approaching and it’s becoming more and more realistic, my motivation is very high.
A the moment when the Olympics were postponed, Mizutani’s face came to my mind first. “Is it okay?” “What should I do?”
If it were true, I might have retired around August last year (laughs). Now that I am confident that I can still do it, I think I can do my best until next year even if it is postponed again.
I was relieved to hear that. Is there any part of the condition that has improved over the past year that lead to your current confidence?
Is it a place where you can “return to the old days”? Recently, I’ve returned to the feeling I had when I was a high school student or college student who was playing table tennis and was crazy about it.
Did you have any chance [to return to the old days of being passionate]?
I’m sure it’s because I feel that the rest of my competitive life is short. I’ve always liked table tennis, but I can’t do it anymore. Because of that kind of loneliness, I think I can practice with a lot of strength like I used to.
Does the fact that you have more time to think about table tennis and look back at the pandemic also have an effect?
I think it is. On the other hand, when I couldn’t play table tennis, I tried some things, “let’s do something different.” But in the end, none of them lasted long. So when I practiced for the first time in a while, I thought, “Oh, I like table tennis after all.” I think that the feeling of “I like table tennis” that I felt anew is connected to my current self.
By the way, what is the “something different” that you tried?
First of all, I played a game (laughs).
Oh, is it “Clash Royale” that was showing off his skills on TV programs?
You know it well (laughs). I also held a tournament myself. I often talk about games with Harimoto in the bath [possible alternate translation: locker room?]. I talk about private things that have nothing to do with table tennis, the Olympics, Chinese players, etc., but 50% talk about games.
On Tomokazu Harimoto
That’s right. Now that you mentioned Mr. Harimoto, how do you see his growth as a player?
It seems that he is gradually feeling a sense of responsibility. Even in recent practice, after everyone finished the curriculum, they practiced independently for another hour. I am also working hard on training. Harimoto is already in the third year of high school. I think this is a time when one can grow up as a table tennis player and as a person, so I feel that he is facing table tennis more firmly than ever before.
Harimoto has sometimes raised mental control as an issue, but do you have the impression that he is also doing well in mental control?
I think he’s done very well since the beginning of this year. It was the same not only in the national team but also in the T-League, but last year he was disappointed when he lost the game, and he felt regret. He was more depressed than the team, he was more depressed about what he lost, and he wasn’t completely blown away. However, this hasn’t happened since the beginning of this year, and he’s in very good shape. He also won the singles at the international tournament held in Qatar in March, and I feel that he is growing steadily.
What do you feel is growing in his play?
He’s back to the aggressive play style he used to have. When Harimoto is off, his play becomes defensive, and in many cases he is attacked by his opponent and cannot defend himself. But lately, I can see that he is taking advantage of that reflection and facing the game with the intention of aggressively attacking himself.
On Koki Niwa and Playing Doubles Together
The mental and play aspects are definitely evolving, aren’t they? Please tell us your impression of another national team member, Koki Niwa.
The approach to table tennis has changed. I think Niwa has a “genius skin” in terms of play, or a play style that doesn’t look like a hard worker, but in practice it’s moving tremendously. I wondered if that movement would really be used in games. It’s also interesting to practice mainly on the basics, even though you play so messed up in a match.
Niwa is a genius player, I was a little surprised that the main practice was basic practice.
I don’t think that was the case in the past. Immediately before the last Rio Olympics, he was so stressed that he couldn’t practice for weeks, and sometimes he escaped from reality. But this time, he’s doing basic practice every day, so I’m glad it looks okay. He’s my doubles partner, but he’s a player who has his own world, so I think I have to read what he’s thinking.
Do you have any concerns that you are both left-handed for doubles?
Certainly, the pair of two left-handed players has hardly been seen in the world for the past 15 years. There was also a talk that either I or Niwa should team up with Harimoto because it is difficult to move. However, Harimoto still wants to be an “ace player” (a player who plays two games in singles), so naturally the team took on its current form [where Niwa and Mizutani are paired]. I have been practicing with Niwa quite a bit, and every time I do it, I make new discoveries and understand our weaknesses, so I feel that I am growing step by step despite the difficulties.
Because the hard part is, how do I move?
That’s right. Everything is difficult, both after serving and after receiving.
Still, are there upsides as well?
There is definitely. The merit of teaming up two left-handed players is that both can provide the same service as in singles, and it is possible to attack with a chiquita even in receive. I think it will give us a great advantage in that respect. Also, from the opponent’s point of view, I think it’s definitely their first time to play against a lefty/lefty pair. I have no experience either.
Certainly, you can play a match against an opponent who has never played against a lefty/lefty pair while always holding an advantage.
There is definitely an advantage in terms of feelings. However, if you do it properly, you won’t win 100%. If you can play normally and win, there would be more lefty/lefty pairs. So our strategy is not to play a normal doubles match, but to use a lot of tricky play to confuse our opponents. So I think you’ll feel like you’re watching a completely different competition.
On Mima Ito
You will also participate in the Tokyo Olympics in mixed doubles. It’s been about two years since you made a pair with Ito from the Korea Open held in July 2019. Please tell us your impression of Ito again.
When I first formed the pair, I was confused by the variety of Mima Ito’s plays. Whether it’s service or receive, it’s a new technique I’ve never seen, I take a course, and the returned ball is also unique, so I couldn’t handle it easily. Even so, the pairing is getting better as the number of games increases, and I feel that the combination is getting better even in practice.
Ito is from the same club (Toyota Town Table Tennis Sports Boy Scouts), and she has a well-known relationship [with Mizutani]. Since she was little, she was called “Falcon” (laughs).
I’m abandoning it now (laughs).
You’re fighting in doubles with Ito, but is your impression different from what it used to be?
I have strong memories of when she was in kindergarten, so there may be parts where I can interact with her as she were in the past.
Is it like a cute little sister?
It really feels like that. However, the moment I stand in front of the table tennis table, I become the face of a top athlete representing Japan. I also look at it with respect.
On His Chance Of Winning Gold in Mixed Doubles
About a year ago, it was said that in mixed doubles you and Ito had a 65-75% chance at medaling and a 20% chance at gold. Has that percentage changed?
We are second in the mixed doubles world rankings, so we will probably be the second seed. In that case, I think that the possibility of medals has increased to about 70-80% because we will not hit the Chinese pair [Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin] until the finals. The gold medal is also adjusted very nicely, so it’s about 30%.
It indeed has gone up a lot. I think the biggest rival is China’s Xu Xin & Liu Shiwen pair, but looking at the competition results so far, it is a painful result without a victory in four matches.
There is not much difference in ability among us, and I think that we are in a position to win, so I think that the rest is a big part of my feelings. Looking back, in the 2019 Grand Final final, while leading the set count 2-0, we lost three games at once and lost the matches. As I continued to lose, I started to think “I want to win” and “I think I can win” during the match, and I felt less motivated to go, or I was a little defensive. If I can get rid of that, I think the probability of winning will increase.
Is there anything you are working on specifically?
Recently, I’ve been practicing a reverse horizontal rotation serve called YG (Young Generation) service. I don’t usually use it a lot in games, but there are many players who have trouble with YG service regardless of gender. That’s why I want to use it as a big weapon at the Olympics.
Certainly, Mizutani has an image that YG service will be released at this moment.
I think so. The reason why I haven’t used it so much is that the YG service is a very complicated rotation, so the returned ball is also complicated. In that case, it would be difficult for Mima Ito to hit the third ball, so it was a big risk to put it out many times. But on the contrary, if you master it, it will definitely become a big weapon, so I am currently practicing hard. Already, Mima Ito’s trust in hitting the third ball firmly even for complicated receives has increased considerably.
Other rivals include Taiwan’s Lin Yun-ju & Cheng I-Ching and South Korea’s Lee Sang-su & Jeon Ji-hee. What is your impression of them?
I’ve been able to win the Taiwanese pair without much effort, so I think it’s a great match. However, I lost to the Korean pair in the semi-finals of the Qatar Open in March. As for the cause of defeat, there are many patterns in which male players are left-handed and female players are right-handed in pairs from other countries, but the Korean pair is the opposite and a little special. That’s why I was confused by the return ball, which has a different nature than before. It didn’t mesh well from beginning to end.
I was watching the game, but I had the impression that you couldn’t break the bad momentum.
That’s right. My play was also really bad. But I’m sure I’ll be able to play well at the Olympics, and I don’t think we’ll get similar results.
On the Tokyo Olympics and Beyond
However, what I am really worried about is the condition of Mizutani’s eyes. Recently, I think some people have said that “the naked eye is better”, but what is your current state?
I’ve been practicing with the naked eye for a long time now, and I feel that it’s a little better than it used to be. For the time being, new sunglasses will arrive, so I haven’t decided which way to go. We plan to make a decision after previewing the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, which is the venue for the match.
I just pray that you will be in the best condition. The opening of the Tokyo Olympics is approaching, but what is the position of Mizutani in this tournament, which will be your fourth appearance?
I think it’s my first and last chance to win a gold medal. The next Paris tournament will be difficult due to age, and this time it will be held in Tokyo, so I would like to prepare so that I can demonstrate all my abilities.
You’ve always been told that you’ll retire after the Olympics, but do you still feel that way?
Yes. However, I think that I will retire from the international competition, but I wonder if I will continue to play table tennis … It may be quite ambiguous (laughs).
I’m getting ahead of myself, but what do you want to do other than table tennis after the Olympics?
That’s not the case at all. I also like soccer and baseball, so I have a desire to try it, but I’m tired of it. There is no such thing as “I want to continue doing this!”
It’s strange that people who have been playing table tennis for such a long time get bored. How about being a commentator? I think you commentated on the finals at this year’s All Japan Championships.
If I get an offer, I would like to try it. It feels like “I wish I could.”
Finally, please share with us your enthusiasm for the Tokyo Olympics.
As a culmination of myself, I would like to express all of my 27 years of competitive life in performance. The goal is to play so far away from humans that the viewer thinks “I can never imitate that myself”, so please take a look.
By the way, do you not wear underwear at this tournament as well?
Naturally. Needless to say.
If you change it suddenly, the condition will go crazy. Thank you for this time. I’m looking forward to your success!
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Mattias Falck recently sat down for an interview with Compass, a European Youth table tennis organization. More information on the organization can be found here.The original article is in German. We have posted an English translation here (the translation was done by Google Translate with human corrections for obvious errors on table tennis terms; no native German speakers were involved).Read other interviews that we have aggregated and translated here.
The reigning World Championships runner-up Mattias Falck is a late bloomer. He is currently preparing for the Olympic Games. Its advantage is its extraordinary play system, which also goes very well with the new ABS plastic ball.
He can’t wait to land in Japan. “To take part in the Olympic Games, to experience them, is something special!”
When Compass reaches Mattias Falck, he is in a hotel room in Paris. He, Kristian Karlsson, Jon Persson and Anton Källberg are currently on a preparatory training camp for the European Championships and the Olympic Games together with the French national team. Mattias is grateful for the variety of being in a city he doesn’t visit often and training with players he doesn’t otherwise train with. When I asked him what he was currently concentrating on during training, he initially hesitated to answer.
“There is a lot of improvement in my game,” he says, which sounds very humble for someone who is ranked ninth in the world. “I’m good at rallies, but since I play with short pimples on my forehand, my first offensive ball is sometimes too slow, which makes it a little too easy for my opponents to attack hard on this ball and counter-loop. That’s why I try to improve my forehand openings. ”
Mattias Falck made it into the top 100 in October 2015. In June 2019 he was in the top 10, which is something special. Only three non-Asian players have managed to do this in the last seven years. [Note from Edges And Nets: this is clearly false since Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov have both occupied a top-ten spot in 2021.] Besides Mattias, these are Simon Gauzy and Hugo Calderano.
“Whether you make it to the top 100 to the top 10 depends on many things. I think the most important thing is the irrepressible will to always want to improve. And to have a lot of fun developing as a player so that you can enjoy the hard work that is necessary for it, so to speak. It is also important to like the crucial situations in important games, to be triggered again especially when it is 9-9 in a final for a championship.
For me personally, it took me some time to mature and adapt to adult table tennis. It has always been my strength to play the ball safely on the table. In order to assert myself with the adults, I had to become much more aggressive and play harder, but at the same time also had a high level of basic security. With my game system, I can not only play safely. I have to take risks, but of course make as few mistakes as possible. “
You made it into the Top 10 later than anyone else in it right now. You were almost 28. Could you have been there earlier?
“I think everyone goes their own way and there are always a lot of things that influence their career. I can count myself lucky that I had good coaches in every phase of my career – in Lyckeby, where I was trained, in Köping, where I went to table tennis high school, and in Halmstad, where I moved afterwards and where I have been for over ten years. I always had people around me who supported me and believed in me, not to forget my wife, of course. One thing I regret is that I started physical/weight training too late. I still have a lot of work to do in this area. “
It’s one thing to get to the top 10, it’s another to stay there. You have succeeded in doing this for almost two years so far. How come
“My equipment and thus my playing style are a big advantage for me: Short pimples on the forehand and a normal, inverted rubber on the backhand. Very few players play with this combination. Even if I should be analyzed more by my opponents, they still have to play a lot against this material and game system in order to get used to it. And there are just not many who play like me. Therefore it is still very uncomfortable for them that the ball comes out of my backhand with a lot of topspin and bounces “normally”, but much flatter and with reverse spin from my forehand. They are used to a completely different rhythm. “
“An advantage. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that there are not more pips in the men’s game. The first plastic ball bounced off very flat, making it almost impossible for me to smash the balls when my opponents were playing flat topspins into my forehand. Because my pimples have less grip compared to normal rubbers, I cannot counter-loop with topspin. I could more or less lift it back onto the table. The ABS plastic ball jumps a little higher and has less rotation. That makes it possible for me to attack more straight ahead, ie harder and also more aggressively. “
The Olympic Games are only a few weeks away. What is it like to be able to play there?
“Great! It is the biggest event for table tennis players as it only takes place every four years. You can feel that in the atmosphere. You get nervous, in a very special way. I took part in Rio 2016, but only in the team competition. We were beaten by South Korea in the quarterfinals, where I won a singles but lost the doubles. To experience an Olympics as a player is something extraordinary. I was in the Olympic Village in Rio for over ten days before the competitions started. Many said it wasn’t very wise. But I enjoyed every minute. I thought it was really cool to meet all kinds of people, some of them were real megastars. ”
And how do you prepare?
“We will prepare with many training camps. Then I hope that the European Championships really take place in June so that we have at least one big tournament before that. In Japan we will then have a camp in Fukuoka before we move to the Olympic Village on July 20th. “
You will be placed in the top eight. Special wishes for the draw?
“No – it comes as it comes. I don’t worry about that. I focus on what I can influence. And these are my games. I exclude the rest. “
And what about the Chinese?
“They are the favorites and of course they are very good. But I beat Xu Xin last year and had a set point for a seventh and decisive set against Ma Long. I think they respect me. I have to stay strong at the table and get them under time pressure. I’ll put everything I have in there and fight. “
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We translate a recent group of quick interviews about travel that Table Tennis World did with various members of the Chinese National Team over the last several weeks regarding their travel preferences (sources: one, two, three).
What is the favorite place that you have competed in?
Ma Long: Suzhou
Xu Xin: Shanghai
Fan Zhendong: I have traveled to many places for competition, but the places that have left the biggest mark on me are my first singles World Championships in Paris and my first team World Championships in Tokyo.
Lin Gaoyuan: Japan and Korea
Liu Shiwen: Tokyo
Ding Ning: I don’t have a favorite
Chen Meng: Weihai
Sun Yingsha: I go to wherever there’s good food haha
Wang Manyu: My favorite foreign country is Morroco. My favorite domestic city is Shenzhen.
Zhu Yuling: Korea
Which country or city have you been to that you would recommend fans to travel to and why?
Ma Long: China, it has has everything
Xu Xin: Fiji. The weather is good, the sea is good, and it’s expensive (luxurious?).
Lin Gaoyuan: Japan, the grilled meat is delicious.
Liu Shiwen: United States. I feel like there are so many places to go. Although I’ve been there and planned a lot, I haven’t really been to the most fun places.
Chen Meng: Qingdao, my hometown. The scenery is beautiful and it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There’s also delicious seafood and Tsingtao beer, which will be worth it for everyone.
Sun Yingsha: Everywhere is not bad. I don’t go out too much haha
Where is somewhere you would like to go at least once in your life?
Ma Long: Iceland
Xu Xin: My dream when I was young was to go to Australia, and now I have been there.
Lin Gaoyuan: Maldives
Liu Shiwen: Maldives
Chen Meng: In the sky in a hot air balloon hahaha
Sun Yingsha: Paris
Do you like to travel with a plan or do you do what your heart wants?
Ma Long: A mix of both
Xu Xin: I travel with friends
Fan Zhendong: When you travel, you must go wherever your heart wants
Lin Gaoyuan: When I go out I must travel with a plan.
Liu Shiwen: I travel with a plan.
Ding Ning: I actually prefer to plan the first part, but once I get there then I like the kind of people who just follow their heart.
Chen Meng: I travel with a plan.
Sun Yingsha: Do what my heart wants.
Wang Manyu: Do what my heart wants
Zhu Yuling: I travel with a plan
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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?
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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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 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.