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.
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