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Reflections: Osaka classic

Friday 30 April

Matches that live long in the memory, contests that become part of table tennis folklore, one such match took place some 20 years ago on Saturday 28th April at the 2001 World Championships in the Japanese city of Osaka.

At the semi-final stage of the men’s team event, China recorded a 3-2 win against Korea Republic; the contest between Liu Guozheng, a shake-hands grip player and Kim Taeksoo, a pen-holder, that secured the victory, was quite simply an epic.

Matches in those days in team events best of three games, each game to 21 points or if parity at 20-all, two points clear, the contest was littered with exciting top spin rallies of the very highest order.

Kim Taeksoo won the first game; in the second Liu Guozheng directed his attacking strokes towards the backhand of Kim Taeksoo, the Korean establishing a 9-3 lead, Liu Guozheng levelled at 11-all before assuming a 17-13 advantage. Kim Taeksoo recovered, he went ahead 20-19, and thus was in one point of a securing his team a place in the final.

All the services on match point were from the backhand court followed by forehand cross-court attacks.

  • First match point (19-20): Liu Guozheng served, short with backspin, Kim Taeksoo pushed the return, Liu Guozheng won the point with a powerful cross-court forehand topspin.

 

  • Second match point (20-21): Liu Guozheng served, Kim Taek Soo attacked by playing a forehand across the table, Liu Guozheng returned from the backhand ac ross the table, Kim Taek Soo played a backhand down the line, Liu Guozheng attacked with the forehand to Kim Taeksoo's forehand who returned the ball into the net.

 

  • Third match point: (21-22): Liu Guozheng served to Kim Taeksoo’s backhand, Kim Taeksoo failed to return.

The next two points both went the way of Liu Guozheng to level the contest, the match was now on a knife-edge, a third game of outstanding rallies unfolded.

Kim Taeksoo established a 19-15 lead, Liu Guozheng recovered to 19-all, Kim Taeksoo won the next point.

  • Fourth match point (20-19): Kim Taeksoo served; Liu Guozheng attacked with the backhand to Kim Taeksoo's  backhand who blocked the return into the net.

 

  • Fifth match point (21-20): Kim Taeksoo served; Liu Guozheng attacked with a forehand topspin, a tremendous cross topspin rally ensued with Kim Taek Soo eventually playing  the  eighth ball of the exchange narrowly over the end of the table.

 

  • Sixth match point (22-21): Kim Taeksoo served, Liu Guozheng returned with the backhand, Kim Taeksoo replied with a backhand block, another enthralling rally ensued with the Korean eventually netting the eighth stroke  of the rally.

 

  • Seventh  match point (23-22 ):    Kim Taeksoo served; Liu Guozheng played a forehand topspin which Kim Taeksoo blocked off the table.

The score at 23-all saw another tremendous rally, Liu Guozheng played five superb forehand attacking strokes, Kim Taeksoo returned in like manner  but  eventually netted a return giving Liu Guozheng his first match point.

  • First match point for Liu Guozheng: he attacked the service of Kim Taeksoo; then followed with another forehand top spin. Kim Taeksoo moved to play a forehand top spin, he succeeded but the ball hit the top of the net and flew long.

At the first opportunity Liu Guozheng prevailed; after a contest lasting three and three quarter hours, China had booked a place in the final. Liu Guozheng was the hero.

CHINA 3-2 KOREA Republic

Liu Guozheng v Oh Sangeun 21-12, 21-18

Kong Linghui v Kim Taeksoo 16-21, 17-21

Ma Lin v Ryu Seungmin 21-12, 21-19

Kong Linghui v Oh Sangeun 24-26, 18-21

Liu Guozheng v Kim Taeksoo 16-21, 24-22, 25-23

 

Editor’s Note: Thanks to the assistance of Gennaro Bozza in writing this article.

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