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.
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.
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.
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.