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Zhang Yining, learning from Wang Nan

Thursday 25 June

25th June 2020

Zhang Yining, learning from Wang Nan

Accepting defeat is never easy; perhaps it's a little easier to stomach when you have been totally outplayed but when you have fought back only to fall at the final hurdle, when you have come so close and victory was within your sights, then that is when acknowledging defeat is surely at its most painful.

Equally adding to the hurt is when you are the no.1 ranked player in the world and the top seed, the favourite for gold; it’s a title you so desperately want to win and you have to watch the player against whom you experienced defeat stand on the top step of the podium for the third consecutive time.

Such was the situation for Zhang Yining at the Liebherr 2003 World Championships in Paris on Saturday 24th May. She trailed her compatriot, Wang Nan, by three games to nil in the women’s Singles final. Defeat stared her in the face but she recovered, she won the next three games to level proceedings. She was one game away from being crowned World Champion for the first time; it was not be a remarkable recovery.

Wang Nan responded to win the seventh game (11-7, 11-8, 11-4, 5-11, 6-11, 8-11, 11-5) and thus completed the hat-trick having won in 1999 in Eindhoven and 2001 in Osaka.

“I felt I was in good form in Paris but I learnt from losing”, explained Zhang Yining after having had time to reflect on her defeat. “I'm now more mature as a result of that match, there is still room for improvement; I need to improve my overall skills and I need to be able to cope better with stressful situations. There's still a gap between Wang Nan and myself.”

Undoubtedly, it was a great disappointment for Zhang Yining; however, defeat was certainly no disgrace, she had lost to the most successful female player of that era, a player who had a reputation for being successfulon the big stage.  At the Wang Nan was the reigning Olympic champion.

“I need to be more consistent”, stressed Zhang Yining. Now is that not something that she learnt from Wang Nan and something she put into good effect. Creating angles from the backhand, forcing the opponent out of position was a major strength of Wang Nan; as the years progressed did the backhand of Zhang Yining, especially the blocking skills become more and more solid, like the proverbial brick wall.

Similarly did Zhang Yining not follow Wang Nan in the mental strength department?

Cast your mind back to early 2004, the Greek Open, an ITTF Pro Tour tournament and the test event for the forthcoming Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Both faced German opponents in the women’s singles event. Zhang Yining lost to Nicole Struse, Wang Nan faced Jie Schöpp. In the vital seventh game she trailed 0-6 and then 1-7 before call­ing for a “time out” at 3-7; from that moment onwards, Wang Nan never missed, never erred and duly succeeded.

It was a lesson for Zhang Yining in consistency and mental strength; the rest as they say is history.

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