Tag Archives: liu shiwen

Chen Meng: China National Games Are Harder Than Olympics

The Chinese Olympic women’s team (Liu Shiwen, Chen Meng, Sun Yingsha, and Wang Manyu) recently gathered for a live Tiktok stream on Liu Shiwen’s channel during their post-Olympic quarantine. One of the notable statements made was that Chen and Liu agreed that the China National Games are significantly harder than the Olympics. Per one report,

When talking about the goal of the National Games, Chen Meng said: “I think this is harder than the Olympic Games.”

Liu Shiwen added: “Don’t be modest, don’t be modest. You are too modest! You are the person who aims to double the championship!” This sentence made Chen Meng anxious: “It’s really strong, you said we are in this video. Which of the four is good at playing, let’s not be humble! There are others that are not on the screen, they are not easy to play. To be honest, the level of China’s National Games is higher than that of the Olympics.”

Liu Shiwen also followed to praise the strength of the national table tennis: “In terms of technical level alone, it is much higher than the Olympic Games.”

Liu stated in another recent media appearance that the post-Olympic quarantine is 21 days, and they are expected to be released on August 30. They will then immediately begin preparations for the China National Games, which are to be held September 15-27, 2021.

The women also discussed their chief rival Mima Ito. Sun Yingsha noted that she was very happy to have a rival like Mima Ito to push her to be stronger. Chen joked that she envied that Sun was able to play Ito twice at the Olympics while Chen did not to get face China’s strongest rival and added that she is looking forward to more rivals like Mima Ito emerging. Wang Manyu is also looking forward to playing Ito in the future, and the Chinese are confident that they can beat her.

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Liu Shiwen Olympic Injury Withdrawal Prompts Speculation

Liu Shiwen has withdrawn from the team event of the Tokyo Olympics due to her lingering elbow injury and will be replaced by Wang Manyu. The timing, right after a mixed doubles loss, has prompted speculation among the top comments on WTT’s Instagram post that the withdrawal was due to either China or Liu’s lack of confidence in Liu, and that the injury was merely an excuse.

An informal Instagram poll (consisting of almost 200 people) overwhelmingly supported the idea that Liu’s withdrawal was not related to her elbow injury.

However, while the timing is suspicious, there is no rigorous evidence that the withdrawal was not due to the stated reason of an elbow injury, which indeed has been bothering Liu for roughly a year now. Certain netizens were quick to point this out:

This is not the only table tennis “conspiracy theory” involving Liu to emerge during the Olympics. Another comment further on the WTT post was a Chinese fan complaining about perceived cheating or poor sportsmanship by the Japanese mixed doubles team when they won gold.

The allegation of cheating or poor sportsmanship that Chinese fans are making appears to be largely based on two ideas. One is that the small court size was intentionally done by Japan to hamper Xu Xin’s playing style. The second is that Mima Ito blew on the ball before the point (with the implication that she was trying to cheat), and that umpires intentionally ignored it to benefit Japan.

The second allegation appears to be quite shaky as it fails to mention several things. First of all, Xu and Liu did not appear to even complain about Ito blowing on the ball to the umpire. Second, blowing on the ball was made illegal due to COVID restrictions, not due to unfair competitive advantage, and is quite common during a match during non-COVID times. Even during COVID, Timo Boll was seen blowing all over a ball during the European Championships earlier this summer, and Anton Källberg did not mind at all:

An earlier Instagram poll (roughly a couple hundred participants) also voted along similar margins that they do not believe the allegations of Japan “rigging” the Olympics.

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 the rest of our Olympic coverage.

If you are based in the United States, be sure to also check out our exclusive interview with Kanak Jha and a tournament that Edges and Nets will participate in hosting in San Diego in mid-August.

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.

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Hilights from the Chinese Men vs Women Exhibition Match

The Chinese National Team played an exhibition match between the men’s and women’s team last weekend.

The men started the odd-numbered games (i.e. Games 1, 3, 5, and 7) down 6-8 and the even-numbered games (i.e. Games 2, 4, and 6) down 8-9.

Final Results and links to full matches:

Chen Meng defeats Fan Zhendong 4-3

Sun Yingsha defeats Xu Xin 4-3

Ma Long defeats Liu Shiwen 4-2


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Chinese National Team Shares Their Travel Preferences

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 Discusses WTT Doha and Tokyo Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liu Shiwen Elbow Injury Update

Edges and Nets’ Instagram account provided a brief update on Liu Shiwen’s elbow injury that required surgery and sidelined her through the second half of 2020.

You can watch some full matches of Liu Shiwen and other players at the Chinese National Games on the 247TableTennis Youtube Channel. These matches may very well be the only glimpse we get of the Chinese National Team until the Olympics since they have withdrawn from all international events until then:

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Cover image taken from ITTF’s Flickr page, which sadly appears to no longer be active with the WTT rebrand.

Winners and Losers of China’s Withdrawal From WTT Doha

This post is the sixth post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered seeds 4 and 4 Liu Shiwen (who after the post was published has withdrawn) and Cheng I-Ching. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

By far the biggest storyline hanging over WTT Doha will be China’s last-minute withdrawal from the event and all future international events between now and the Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus concerns. This does not necessarily mean we will not see the Chinese players in action before Tokyo as the China Open may still happen.

We take a look (mainly from a seeding perspective) at who benefits and who suffers from the sudden withdrawal.

Winner: Mima Ito

Barring an epic collapse in the first few rounds of both events, with Sun Yingsha not able to gain ranking points from WTT Doha, Mima Ito will be world ranked number two after the completion of WTT Doha and in full control of the second seed at the Tokyo Olympics. Assuming ITTF continues its current drawing system of treating the third and fourth seed as equals, that would give Ito a 50 percent chance that the two Chinese players meet in the semi-finals, meaning Ito has a clear path to the Olympic finals without having to beat a Chinese star.

That being said, even if Ito does not need to play a Chinese player on the way to the finals in the Olympics, she still needs to take care of business against the likes of Cheng I-Ching and Kasumi Ishikawa, who recently beat Ito at the Japan National Championships. We will see in WTT Doha whether she is ready to take advantage of the golden opportunity that the withdrawal has presented her.

Winner: Hugo Calderano

Barring a major collapse from Tomokazu Harimoto or an epic run from Mattias Falck, which although unlikely are both possibilities, there is effectively a two-way race between Calderano and Lin Yun-Ju (who along with Dimitrij Ovtcharov are actually club teammates now that Calderano has joined Fakel Gazprom Orenburg) for the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics. The fourth seed is incredibly valuable as it ensures that one does not have to play either of the two Chinese stars until at least the semi-finals, so there is a path to an Olympic medal without beating a Chinese player.

The two are so close on the world rankings, that essentially whoever performs better at WTT Doha will be in position for the fourth seed (Calderano keeps the fourth seed if they perform exactly the same at WTT Doha).

Before Xu Xin withdrew from the event, Calderano and Lin entered WTT Doha on equal footing as third and fourth seeds. However, now that Xu Xin is out, Calderano has been upgraded to the second seed. This means that (assuming no upsets happen), Calderano’s semi-final will either be Lin or Mattias Falck while Lin’s semi-final will either be wth Calderano or Harimoto.

If Lin and Calderano play each other in the semi-finals, such a match-up would likely be a play-in for the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics. In such a situation, Calderano doesn’t benefit that much from Xu Xin’s withdrawal, as both Lin and Calderano would control their own destiny. Where Calderano would have an advantage would be if he plays Falck and Lin plays Harimoto, as many would consider Harimoto to be the more difficult opponent.

Although Lin and Calderano are club teammates, it is unclear how much familiarity they have with each other’s games. Based on their recent social media behavior, it seems that Calderano is still training Germany while Lin has been training in China over the last few months.

Losers: Sun Yingsha and Lin Yun-Ju

Ito’s and Calderano’s improved Olympic seeding prospects come at the expense of Sun Yingsha and Lin Yun-Ju. For Lin, it is not a huge disadvantage since it is just a slight change-up in the draws, and Lin should feel confident in his abilities to beat Harimoto anyway.

However, Sun’s inevitable fall to third in the world rankings really hurts her. First, if she plays the Olympic singles, there is a chance that she will have to play another Chinese player in the semi-finals. Even worse, one of Sun’s advantages in the Olympic selection process was that she was higher ranked than Ito and that selecting Sun and Chen Meng would thus ensure that China would hold the top two seeds. However, from an Olympics seeding perspective, Sun now carries no advantage over the likes of Ding Ning, Zhu Yuling, and Wang Manyu.

Winner: Kasumi Ishikawa

Ishikawa needs to do better than Cheng I-Ching in both the WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender event to pass her in the world rankings and put herself in position to take the fourth seed. This previously would have been an extremely difficult task as it likely would have involved beating two players out of Cheng, Ito, Liu Shiwen, or Sun Yingsha in the quarter-finals of each event without losing.

However, without Sun and Liu in the mix, Ishikawa is now a top four seed at WTT Doha. This means that if Ishikawa plays to her seeding, she will reach the semi-finals, where she can either face Cheng for what would almost be a play-in match for the Olympic fourth seed or face Ito, who she recently beat at the Japan National Championships in January. A win against Ito would send Ishikawa to the finals, in which case Ishikawa will have either already outperformed Cheng or will have the chance to outperform Cheng by beating her in the finals for what would also almost be a play-in match for the Olympic fourth seed. Thus, Ishikawa’s chances of stealing the Olympic fourth seed from Cheng have gone way up.

While Ishikawa gets a huge boost from the absence of Liu and Sun, things are also still looking solid for Cheng I-Ching. Cheng still completely fully controls her own seeding destiny and can widen the gap between her and Ishikawa with a pair of wins in the semi-finals/finals over Ishikawa in both WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender.

Loser: Liu Shiwen

After not getting to see Liu Shiwen in the Fall of 2020 due to her injury, fans will need to wait even longer to see Liu Shiwen in action. This prolonged absence will really hurt Liu in the world rankings as a good performance from Kasumi Ishikawa could drop Liu to number 9 in the world, which would put her as a fifth seed in the Olympic women’s singles behind Ito, Ishikawa, Cheng I-Ching, and the other Chinese player.

If Liu does not get the chance to pass Ishikawa again in the China Open, it is hard to see China selecting her to play at the women’s singles event. Such a low-seeded Chinese player at the Olympics would be unprecedented, and China could end up with a quarter-final China vs China match-up on their hands if that were to happen. That would give China a maximum of one medal, a result they almost certainly want to avoid.

Furthermore, Liu has lost her two most recent matches with Mima Ito. Granted they were in 2018, but coaches would likely want to see how she plays against Ito before selecting her for the Olympic team. Without the chance to prove her case at WTT Doha, Liu Shiwen’s Olympic hopes may now almost completely hinge on her performance at the China Open (which may or may not happen).

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Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.

Liu Shiwen Interview With CCTV

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

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

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

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

*sit down interview*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCTV: So do you feel satisfied?

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

CCTV: What was the hardest moment of your career?

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

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

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

CCTV: What helped you turn it around this time?

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

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

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

On her semi-final win over Ding Ning

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

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

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

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

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

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

On her finals win over Chen Meng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCTV: Have things changed after winning the championships?

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

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

WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 5: Cheng I-Ching and Liu Shiwen

Liu Shiwen 2019 WTTC

This post is the fifth post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered seeds 5 through 8 in the men’s singles event: Jeong Youngsik, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Jang Woojin, and Mattias Falck. Today’s post will cover the third and fourth seeds (Liu Shiwen and Cheng I-Ching, respectively) of the women’s singles event. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

Update: China’s withdrawal from WTT Doha 2021 makes a lot of this information out of date.

We take a look at Cheng I-Ching’s race with Kasumi Ishikawa for the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics, Liu Shiwen’s campaign to represent China in the women’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics, and how WTT Doha factors into both of these storylines.

4 Seed Cheng I-Ching

Cheng I-Ching (WR 8) enters WTT Doha 2021 as the fourth seed. She will be looking to do better than her post-pandemic performances in the ITTF Grand Finals and World Cup, where she beat Wu Yue (WR 31) and Adriana Diaz (WR 19) but was upset by Han Ying (WR 21) 4-2 and lost to Wang Manyu (WR 4) 4-1.

As mentioned in our previous post, if the Olympics were held today, Cheng would be the fourth seed in the women’s singles event. Cheng’s top priority these next few months is making sure that Kasumi Ishikawa doesn’t pass her on the world rankings to take the fourth seed in Tokyo. Ishikawa will most likely be unable to do so immediately after this tournament, but Cheng should do her best to advance far in Qatar and deny Ishikawa the chance to pass her in a future tournament (such as a potential China Open).

From an Olympics seeding perspective, a Cheng vs Ishikawa match-up in the quarterfinals or semifinals (or perhaps even the finals) would thus be one of the highest stakes match-ups of the women’s singles event. Cheng and Ishikawa’s games complement each other very well in generating highlights. Cheng tends to take a step back and hit harder, and the extra space gives Ishikawa enough time to put in increasingly impressive blocks as Cheng hits increasingly more powerful and/or well-placed shots as seen in the point shown below from their seven-game thriller last year in Hungary.

Cheng’s matches in rounds after Ishikawa is eliminated are less important to her, as there is pretty much no chance that Cheng will pass Ito for the second seed in Tokyo. However, a win against Ito would break Cheng’s three match losing streak to her and would put her in a better place mentally in a potential future match-up in Tokyo. Since Cheng is one of China’s biggest threats to an Olympic medal in the singles event, if Cheng is able to upset Liu Shiwen or Sun Yingsha, that may very well be enough to tip the balance away from that player representing China in the women’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics.

3 Seed Liu Shiwen

Reigning World Champion Liu Shiwen (WR 7) enters WTT Doha as the third seed. Her low world rank (by her standards) is not due to losing, but rather due to the fact that she has not appeared in international competition since the pandemic due to an injury that sidelined her up until December. One of the bigger storylines of WTT Doha will be seeing whether Liu Shiwen still looks bothered by her injury. However, Liu’s injury recovery may be overshadowed by perhaps the biggest storyline of the women’s singles event in WTT Doha and beyond: can Sun or Liu make the better case for a spot to represent China in the women’s singles event in Tokyo?

While the Chinese National Team selection process is always a mystery, there are two major factors that viewers should be able to follow along with: seeding and performance against international competition.

Olympic Seeding

The current seeding situation heavily favors Sun. If Sun and Chen Meng are selected, then if the Olympics were held today Ito would be the third seed, and China would have a guaranteed path to sweeping gold and silver. However, if Liu and any other top Chinese player are selected, then Ito would be a top-two seed, setting up a potential China-China clash in the semi-finals that would result in at best a gold and bronze medal for them.

Due to her injury absence, Liu trails Mima Ito by so much in the world rankings that Liu will certainly be unable to pass Ito after WTT Doha regardless of the results. However, if Ito finishes ahead of Sun in both WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender events (e.g. Ito finishes second and Sun loses in the semi-finals or Ito finishes first and Sun finishes second), then Ito will pass Sun for the World Rank #2 spot and take control of the second seed at Tokyo Olympics. Liu may secretly hope for this situation as it would wipe away the seeding advantage that Sun has over Liu.

Performance Against International Competition

At the end of the day, silver and bronze are just icing on the cake for China, and the real prize remains the gold medal. If Liu shows she is better able to take care of business against international competition than Sun, coaches may still pick her even if she gets screwed over by the seeding situation. On the other hand, if Liu suffers an early upset, it will be up to the coaches to determine how much patience to show towards her injury recovery.

Liu is an undefeated 12-0 against Kasumi Ishikawa and 8-0 against Cheng I-Ching, who will almost certainly in some order be the fourth and fifth seed in Tokyo, and Liu has never even needed to go to a deciding seventh game against them. Both of these players have beaten Sun before (although Ishikawa has lost six straight so Sun since her last and only victory over Sun), and if they are able to pull of another upset against Sun or give her a scare, that will work in Liu’s favor.

Liu’s biggest hurdle is Mima Ito, who is likely regarded by China as the biggest threat to their gold medal aspirations. Ito actually has a winning record against Liu, but their most recent match was in 2018. Things will likely be different this time around. In 2018, the Chinese scouting resources were more focused on Miu Hirano, who had a sensational performance throughout 2017, and perhaps even Ishikawa, who was ranked in the top five, while Ito was only top ten at the time. Reflective of the lack of preparedness, in a live commentary coach Liu Guoliang bemoaned Liu Shiwen’s complete inability to handle Ito’s banana flick with the pips (as shown below).

Mima Ito’s Banana Flick with the pips

Liu Guoliang felt that the best option would be to serve short to Ito’s forehand (as shown in the first point below), but he further noted that Liu Shiwen lacked confidence to reliably serve short to Ito’s forehand. As a result, Liu served almost exclusively long to the backhand, even if that meant allowing Ito to step around for the forehand smash (shown in the second point below).

Liu Shiwen wins a point off the short serve to the forehand and then a long serve to the backhand versus Mima Ito.

After more than two years, during which Ito has become the clear-cut biggest threat to Chinese dominance, Liu will presumably have focused on developing serves to play to Ito’s weaknesses and received training on how to deal with Ito’s backhand. However, as Liu Guoliang mentioned in his commentary, executing the short serve to the forehand during training, which the whole national team should be able to do in their sleep, is much easier than in high-pressure matches.

Unless it is clear her injury is bothering her, in which case she may have bigger problems to worry about, Liu likely cannot afford another loss to Ito in Qatar. In principle, an ideal situation for Liu’s Olympic selection hopes would be for her to wipe the floor with Ito and then for Ito to beat Sun. However, due to the way the seeding works out, the only way for Sun and Ito to play each other is for Liu to lose one of them, which she certainly does not want.

Liu Shiwen’s Ideal Draw

It is unfortunate that ITTF’s nationality caps have placed the reigning World Champion in a situation where she may have to hope for her teammate to fail to increase her chances at competing in Tokyo, but that may end up being the case if Liu draws Ito in the semi-finals and Cheng draws Sun.

On the other hand, if Liu draws Sun in the semi-finals, then Liu will completely control her destiny regarding the seeding situation. Two wins over Sun in the semi-finals and two dominant wins over Ito in the finals would deliver the second seed to Ito and allow Liu to show that she can be trusted to defeat Ito and bring China the gold medal in Tokyo. Hence, Edges and Nets would find a Liu vs Sun and Cheng vs Ito semi-final most compelling.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over seeds 3 and 4 in the men’s singles event. It will be posted on Wednesday, February 24 (North American timezone). The next article has been delayed to Thursday, February 25 due to the China’s sudden decision to withdraw from WTT Doha.

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.