Women's Table Tennis - Singles Progress

Rowden April 2017

The first World Championships were held in London in 1926. In the early years up to 1955 Europe dominated with Hungary winning 10 singles (Maria Mednyanszky champion in the first 5 singles and runner-up in the next 2 to Anna Sipos).

Gizella Farkas won 3 finals from 1947 to 1949 and featured in the next 4, being also a finalist 7 years in a row. From 1950 to 1955 Angelica Rozeanu from Romania established a new record winning 6 singles in succession. In 1953 she won 4 gold medals, in singles, both doubles and the team event and was the last European woman to win a world singles.
From 1956 Asia swept the board, with Japan dominating up to 1969. The only exception was in 1961 when Qiu Zhonghui won in Beijing in front of her home crowd. From 1957 the Worlds were held biennially.
Starting in 1971 up to 2015 China has won every women’s singles event with the exception of 3 years. Pak Yung Sun, the famous lefthander from North Korea was the winner in 1975 and again in 1977 and in 1993 Hyun Jung-hwa this time from South Korea was the one to again slow the Chinese steamroller.
In the Brasil Olympics of 2016 China won all 4 gold medals in both team and singles and in fact also had the losing finalists in both men’s and women’s singles. It might therefore seem that China are and will continue to be totally dominant in the foreseeable future, but in fact cracks are already appearing in their awesome machine.
If we look at the World Rankings for U21, U18 and U15 girls, China are in fact trailing way behind Japan in all categories. Japan has 8 out of the top 10 in U21’s the other 2 being from Hong Kong and Singapore; China does not feature in this age group. In the U18’s Japan is the number one ranked country in the world; it has 6 players, 1 to 4, 6 and 10, whereas China has only 2 at 5 and 7. And in the younger girls U15, Japan leads again with the 1, 2 and 8; two other Asian players are from Hong Kong and Korea, again China does not feature in this category and other players are from Europe or USA.
So this does not appear to augur well for the future of Chinese women’s table tennis at the highest levels. They have at present the world 1 and 2 in Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling, Chen Meng is at 5 and Wu Yang at 10. The average age is around 24.5, Ding is 27 and Zhu the youngest at 22. The Japanese are however much younger, have a system for developing top girls and are already packing the rankings at all levels.
The ascendency of the Japanese girls has already been demonstrated in the current Asian Championships which have just taken place in China. Miu Hirano, just 17 during the Championships, beat Ding Ning 3 – 2 in the Quarters, Zhu Yuling 3 – 0 in the Semis and Chen Meng 3 – 0 in the Final. Looking ahead it seems that the Japanese will be in a very strong position with their women for the 2020 Olympics. Hirano wasn’t even in the top 10 women and there are 3 Japanese women ranked above her!
Interestingly enough Japan have even younger players such as Mima Ito ranked at number 8 in the women’s top 10; she will not be 17 till October 2017 and has already won a number of doubles with Hirano in Senior Protours. She even won the German Protour singles beating both Feng Tianwei and Petrissa Solja. At the Rio Olympics she won a bronze medal in the team event for Japan again beating Feng Tianwei in the vital match.
It is also interesting that these young Japanese stars are far quicker than the older Chinese players and are capable of using the plastic ball much more effectively. They take the ball very early over the table and are totally unpredictable in placement, using line and body balls and also extreme angles, but rarely playing two balls to the same place in the opponent’s half. Far too often the Chinese women are retreating too far which leaves them vulnerable and out of position. It seems as if they are still trying to use the older style spin game which worked with the old celluloid ball but which gives much less advantage with plastic. Surprisingly it would appear that the Chinese women have not caught up with the changing science of our sport.
On the other hand the Japanese girls are younger, less experienced and still learning. There are a number of aspects which they can improve on in their play which will make them even more formidable on the world stage.

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