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Chinese Teenager a Surprise in Table Tennis Championships

Chinese Teenager a Surprise in Table Tennis Championships

Posted September. 13, 2004 22:07,   


Another table tennis star has risen from China.

A 17-year-old girl, Cao Zen, swept both the singles and doubles games in the 2004 Panasonic China Open, which ended on September 12.

In the semi-finals, Cao Zen defeated Zhang Yining, who won two gold medals at the Athens Olympics and is the top ranked player in the world, 4-2. In the finals, she easily defeated Wang Tingting, well-known for great defense, 4-0, and became the champion. In the doubles, she paired up with Li Xiaoxia and easily defeated the team of Wang Tingting and Fan Ying.

On its website, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) delivered this news with titles such as: “Teenager Beats Olympics Champion,” and “Cao Zen ‘En Route’ to Beijing in 2008.”

Cao Zen, who played in the semi-finals in the 2003 World Junior Championships, announced her arrival at the senior level by winning the women’s singles at the Malaysian Open. Although the top players were absent, she won both the singles and doubles titles in her first senior championship.

Now, in her second senior championship, she announced herself as the “next generation’s queen of table tennis” by again winning both the singles and doubles, and this time, most of the top players were there to play against her. Her world ranking, which was only 336th last year, jumped to 32nd on August 24, and it seems her ranking will again skyrocket after this tournament.

Cao Zen, who plays right handed, has confidence that helps her never to be intimidated, and makes strong and bold offensive moves. Her real value was revealed during the semi-finals against Zhang Yining. Even when she was losing by one set to Zhang Yining, the world champion, Cao was not nervous and beat her in the second, third, and fourth sets by smashing her ball into Zhang’s court. In the sixth set, it was “poker face” Zhang who started to collapse, and Cao defeated Zhang 11-3 in the last set.

As Cao is making a sharp rise in the world rankings, it seems that the impact of teenagers in women’s table tennis, which started at last year’s Paris World Championships, will continue and be fiercer. In the Paris World Championships, Ai Fukuhara, a Japanese prodigy, and Guo Yue from China received the spotlight from the press when they both played in the quarterfinals as 14 year olds.

Ai Fukuhara started playing table tennis when she was only three years old, and she set the record for being the youngest professional player in 1999 when she was only 10 years old. In 2000, she played for the national team when she was 11 years old, again setting the record of the youngest player ever on the national team. In 2002, she became the Japanese champion in women’s doubles, and now she ranks 21st in the world.

Guo Yue, who ranks fourth in the world, set the record for being the youngest champion by winning the Qatar World Championships at the beginning of this year. Also, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, he paired up with Niu Jianfeng and won the bronze medal by beating the team of Kim Kyung-ah and Kim Bok-rae from South Korea in the bronze medal match.

Sung-Kyu Kim kimsk@donga.com