by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Some six week ago in the Indian city of Ahmedabad in the final of the ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup, a qualification tournament for Markham, those present had been treated to a contest of the very highest order. The rallies were fast and furious, there was no time to blink; the decision had gone in seven games in favour of Zhu Yuling (6-11, 11-9, 11-8, 10-12, 11-7, 11-13, 11-6)
In Markham, the contest was enacted in the very same mode, the sheer speed of the exchanges quite breath-taking.
Liu Shiwen captured a close first game; in the second she went ahead 5-2, maintaining the advantage to establish a two games to nil lead. Zhu Yuling responded to secure the third game but at the start of the fourth the early advantage was with Liu Shiwen. She established a 4-1 lead only to lose the next five points; she levelled at 6-all but then lost another run of points to present Zhu Yuling with a 10-6 lead. On the third game point Zhu Yuling converted to level matters.
Fast and furious but then in the fifth game drama, Liu Shiwen went ahead 10-6, Zhu Yuling levelled, at 10-9 Liu Shiwen having taken a “Time Out”. The next two points went to Liu Shiwen but Zhu Yuling was adamant that the ball had clipped the edge of the table on the point which secured the game for Liu Shiwen.
Notably the reaction of each player was instantaneous. Liu Shiwen clenched her first in success, Zhu Yuling pointed to the edge believing she had heard the ball touch the playing surface. The officials were in no doubt, the point stood, it was advantage Liu Shiwen.
Immediately Zhu Yuling responded to win the sixth game, a game in which neither player held a clear advantage, matters being level at 9-all.
Similar to the contest in Ahmedabad a seventh game beckoned.
At the change of ends in the deciding game, Zhu Yuling led 5-3, she extended the lead to 6-3 before Liu Shiwen won the next four points to move ahead 7-6. Zhu Yuling levelled prior to Liu Shiwen once again moving ahead to lead 9-7; Zhu Yuling gained parity at 9-all but promptly lost the next point.
Match point for Liu Shiwen at 10-9, it was the last she would win; the next three went to Zhu Yuling.
In her second appearance in a Women’s World Cup, her first being in Sendai in 2015 when being beaten at the quarter-final stage by Li Jiao of the Netherlands, the title was secured.
Meanwhile, the incredible record held by Liu Shiwen of never having lost a match in four prior Women’s World Cup appearances came to an end; it may be small comfort but four titles and one runners up finish is some record, one of which she can be justly proud, very proud.
Conversely for Zhu Yuling it is success upon success; when the Women’s World Rankings are announced for November 2017, for the first time in her career she will be at the top of the list