Chinese Ding, Li eye another dream final at table tennis worlds

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-4-28 14:01:05

Despite the depth of talent in the women's singles draw, it feels somewhat inevitable that only two women have a realistic chance of taking the Qoros 2015 World Table Tennis Championships title at the Suzhou International Exhibition Center when the final is to be played out on Saturday.

Chinese rivals Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia have dominated the sport in recent memory, so it would be a surprise if one or the other is not on the top step of the podium after the final.

Ding has been ranked in the world top-10 since July 2009 and has been no lower than No. 2 since November 2011 when she first achieved the world's top rank.

Since then she has had an amazing 29 months in the top spot, and at one stage held the No.1 rank for 21 consecutive months.

Ding won the women's singles world title in 2011 and two World Cup titles in 2011 and 2014.

As impressive as that record is, the No.3 seed Li's is comparable, if not better.

Li is the reigning Olympic and world championships singles champion. When she added those titles to her 2008 World Cup victory she became the only active woman to win the career Grand Slam.

She also has three Asian Games gold medals (one singles, two doubles).

So when two athletes of this calibre meet on the big stage, it is not something to be missed.

Their most unforgettable match is undoubtedly the London 2012 final where the heavily favored Ding was sensationally penalised for a service infringement and time wasting, leading to Ding first losing her composure and then her chance at her first Olympic singles gold medal as she went down 4-1.

The 25-year-old Ding leads their head-to-head record at world or continental tournaments since London 2012 at 5-3, but in their most recent world tour meeting in the final of the 2015 Kuwait Open in February, Li came out on top, 4-1.

If there is to be an upset, the list of likely spoilers is relatively short.

The second-seeded Liu Shiwen could unseat the queens of the sport. She is the reigning Asian Games champion, has 11 world tour singles tournament titles and has spent nine months at singles world No. 1, but may not be in peak form.

She lost to Feng Tianwei from Singapore 4-2 in the 2015 Asian Cup singles final and went down to Li in the semifinal of the Kuwait Open. She was, however, part of the Chinese team that won the 2015 World Cup in January, taking three wins along the way.

The Chinese-born Feng is ranked and seeded fourth. She is a three-time medalist and Singapore's most successful athlete ever at the Olympic Games and her recent Asian Cup victory shows she is in decent form, even though she followed it up with semifinal losses at the German Open and Qatar Open.

The Japanese contingent is led by fifth-seed Kasumi Ishikawa and 11th-seeded veteran Ai Fukuhara.

Although Japan's table tennis present and future is clearly in great health, Ishikawa has not come to Suzhou in her best form, with experienced Fukuhara unlikely to make a breakthrough.

As hosts of the tournament, China has extra places in the draw and those have been taken by Zhu Yuling, Wu Yang and Mu Zi.

Zhu, a two-time world junior singles champion, is China's next female star at just 20 years of age. Unfortunately, she suffered a hand injury at a training camp in March 2015, and that means she may not pose real challenge to her Chinese compatriots in the tournament.

Wu was selected to the team despite some reservations about the effectiveness of her chopping style. The Chinese coaches thought her off-putting rhythm might be effective against some opponents, so she made the cut for her third world championships appearance, but she holds no surprises for her Chinese teammates.

Unseeded and unranked Mu has the task of battling her way through qualification, but she is used to a fight, having defeated both Ding and Li in the Chinese team trials to gain selection to the team in Suzhou.

Posted in: Eye on the ball

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