Mouilleron-le-Captif, close to France’s atlantic coastline is currently the Hub of table tennis – where the best Junior players converge to fight for the title of World Junior Championships in Singles’ and Team Competition.
Richard Prause is our expert on site and reports of triumph and loss, of surprise and disappointment and explains which of these young stars and starlets we should keep an eye on in the future..
I traveled to France full of expectations. To see how the German team would fare but also to watch the international competition and see who is truly the best Junior player in the world.
There are no “small” nations anymore
Where the 16 best players were able to enjoy a day’s rest, all others started in the qualification rounds. During this part of the competition, I had a full day to have a look at the so called “small nations”. And, to no surprise, the “small” table tennis nations have caught up immensely in the last years.
USA or Brasil are by no means small potatoes in the field of table tennis anymore. Bruna Takahashi (BRA), the Jha siblings (USA) and Krisnateja Avvari (who beat the no. 22 of the seeding list!) are only a few of the names of players with a lot of potential and talent. The US Girls team even made it to the semi finals in the team competition. And while they are still a step behind the top teams, we will expect a very strong Brazilian team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe in a few years, the teams from USA are among the very best nations in the World. The potential to accomplish this can already be observed, brimming under the surface.
Great to watch.
China has so far been the golden standard at this event, to no surprise. While their matches tended to be rather one-sided, I can recommend a few other exciting match-ups to watch:
Einige andere Matches erzeugten da mehr Spannung und meine Aufmerksamkeit.
There was this game of Germany’s Luisa Säger against the Thailand star Thamolan Khetkuen. Both players acting very versatile throughout the match, lots of intelligent tempo changes and rallys – with Khetkuen winning in the end. Another great game to watch was France’s own Marie Migot, playing against the superstar-in-the-making Adina Diaconu (ROU). Migot had the task of standing her ground against the aggressively playing Diaconu, who never took a step away from the table. In the end, power prevailed over spin and Adina walked away victorious.
The German player Dennis Klein caused the biggest upset yet by beating the swedish talent with a solid 4-2. I had already noticed Källberg not playing at his best in the teams’ competition, and this loss was surely an upsed in terms of seeding. Dennis played clever and was able to control Anton’s strong service, robbing the swede of his best working weapon. This will surely give Dennis more confidence for the future and underlines the development he has taken recently, glimpses of which we could already observe at the Europe Top 10.
Overall, it was interesting how few Defensive players there were at this event. While this is not very suprising in the Men’s it was all the more obvious in the Women’s competition and in quite a contrast to the world of senior table tennis.
The Quarter Finals
Quarter finals are always great to watch. While not all top-seeded players made it through, the Chinese players especially were up to the pressure on their shoulders. Even Wang Chuqin, the secret favorite, had to go the full distance against Cho from Korea, winning narrowly by 12-10. Also Dennis Klein had a close match to enter the quarter finals. He was up 3-0 against Ng from Hongkong China, but had to go all the way when his opponent equalized to 3-3.
The techniques of tomorrow
All participants of the quarter finals, Women and Men alike are on a very solid base in terms of their technique with China once more outstanding in this aspect as well as in their athletics, which made the difference in the end. Compared to senior players, the youngsters are not as precise and direct, but the overall technique already looks completed. They all lack experience of course and some more hours spent training before they can close the gap to the senior level.
And then: China
4 + 4. The final verdict on the semi finals. That means 4 players from China standing, in the mens’ and womens’ competition. Even if some matches looked closer than they were (4-2), only one player of China had to go into the decider to win his match (see above). The only question for the upcoming Finals match is: Which Chinese player is the best player in the world at the junior level?The best chance for Europe was missed by Alexandre Cassin (FRA), who equalized against Wang Chuqin 2-2 in games and closely lost the last two games by 8-11 and 9-11.
Wang Menyu is the Girls’ World Junior Champion. Fun fact: She is the first player ever to defend the title after her victory last year in Shanghai. Whats more: She will be able to play twice in the Junior Championships before she has to start on the senior level. Amazing.
The name of the Boys’ Champion is Liu Dingshuo, he was able to overcome the penhold-player Xu Fei in the finals with a sweeping 4-0 victory.
China remains the golden standard in table tennis. Things might have been a little closer, had Japan chosen to send their players to France for the event. But I guess, we’ll never know.
These World Junior Championships have given me many glimpses into the future of table tennis. Personally, I am happy with the performance of the German players throughout – but we do still have many things to work on.
We have seen more and longer rallies and once more the importance of athletics. Especially the movement towards and back from the table are becoming more and more crucial.
The next training session is already waiting for us ..
What is the level the young players from China will be playing on? And how will the other nations fare here in France? And what about players we do not see very often on international events (such as the team from North Korea)?
Surprises from North Korea
And this very team from North Korea was faced with the task of playing against China and Hongkong China in the course of the tournament. Yet, they lost both matches clearly. It seems the players from North Korea are well-developed with a good technique, but they simply lack experience and the opportunity to play against players from other nations more often.
Besides the German team, I was especially looking forward to seeing France in Action, and, of course: Anton Källberg from Sweden, who has been beating top players in the german Bundesliga for a while now. And he was the player the Swedes had high hopes for in the quarter finals against China. And he had his chances, but was outmatched nonetheless. Yet, I am looking forward to seeing him in the Singles Competition later on. The German team have met their goal by reaching the quarter finals stage, and Wang Yuan has proven to be quite the leading player in the girls’ team. It was only there they were beaten by a strong US team. As expected, China and south Korea made it through to the finals. Special congrats to USA and Romania though, who played excellently here, winning the bronze medal.
The semi finals
The semi finals were played by France and China, and Hongkong vs. South Korea. Alexandre Cassin, the leading player in the boys team of France, was supported by upcoming Can Akkuzu, but where clearly outgunned by China. It was great to see alternative playing style in Xu Fei of china, a penhold player. Maybe in the future we will even see a defensive player from China?
Ho Kwan Kit was the player the team of Hongkong had their eyes on, yet he lost to Cho Seungmin by 3-2 – paving the way to sweeping 3-0 victory for the team of Korea.
The table was set for the finals: China vs. Korea
In the girls’ finals, team China swept up Korea with a stunning 3-0 victory. So the pressure was on the boys to do the same! And they did, 3-0 as well. Wang Chuqin, left-handed and born in 2000 made a great impression on me during the finals match. He has been sort of a rising star in China, maybe he is the next world Champion to look out for? He has already been able to do, what most senior players find impossible these days: To beat Chinas World Champion Ma Long at the China National Championships. By next Sunday, we will know more ..