While Shakehand players dominate table tennis on all continents, a young player using the penhold grip has entered the World Top 10 – Wong Chun Ting.
Climbing the ladder: Wong Chun Ting
In 2012, the young player from Hong Kong China was still fighting for a spot in the Top 200 of the World, in 2014 he was alreay Top 50, defeating reknowned players such as Adrien MATTENET, Kenta MATSUDAIRA (then ranked 17).
After also maintaining his level of performance throughout 2014, the 24- year old Wong made the next jump up to the Top 10 (9 in April, 8 in July 2016) – since then he is seen as the shooting star in table tennis, winning the Czech Open 2015 and Bronze medal at the World Championships doubles’ competition.
Who is Wong Chun Ting?
Born on September 7th, 1991, the right-handed penhold player focuses on a spectacular all-out attack playing style. As a modern player, he employs the reverse penhold backhand and is able to produce power and spin on his backhand side as well.
Augmenting his offensive mindset and barrage of forehand and backhand shots are a pair of incredibly fast legs and overall superior footwork.
Containing Wong’s attacks can be very difficult, a story that Japan’s Jun Mizutani can surely confirm after losing to Wong at the quarter finals of the Asian Cup 2016..
What makes him so formidable?
Well first off there’s that incredible reverse penhold backhand – quite on par with shots from legendary players such as Wang Hao or Xu Xin.
On the other hand there is also his ability to build and maintain pressure during topspin-topspin rallys and score points. Thanks to his footwork, Wong is able to cover most shots with his forehand, where he can play the hardest. And with Wong’s level of physical fitness, he is able to maintain that demanding style up until the end of the match.
Starting at Age 9
The national team of Hong Kong contains a number of players who started their table tennis career in mainland China. Wong Chun-Ting is the exception, he was born in Hong Kong and started to play there as well.
His career shows that professional players do not have to start at a very young age such as 2, 4 or 6 years. Wong Chun Ting, starting at age 9 still made it to the very top. His late development was surely a factor in why he did not draw so much attention before 2014 and why is success seems so sudden.
„When I was a kid, there was this concrete table close to where we lived. I spent a lot of time there with friends and my parents – but that was not real sports and I didn’t enjoy it so much that I would want to start playing professionally. All of that started in elementary school when we played table tennis twice a week – I was fascinated. I decided for the penhold grip simply out of comfort.”
Why penhold? Why both sides?
When asked about his trademark style, Wong adds:
„When I started to play table tennis seriously, Penhold players tended to use rubbers only on the forehand side of the racket. I simply used this approach without thinking about it. It was 2 years later that an employee of a table tennis shop suggested I use a rubber on the backhand side too. I tried this, more for kicks than anything else, but I soon came to appreciate this modern penhold style more and more. If it hadn’t been for that shop employee – there would be no Wong Chun Ting as there is today!”.
Well, at least not in terms of world rankings. Even with the backhand side covered, after 3 years nobody believed this young player could climb to the top. It was only at the age of 13, when Wong switched from “Once a week for 2 hours” to a training regiment of three times per week.
And even if the idea of reverse penhold backhand was introduced to him, he had to learn this technique all by himself. In Hongkong, there was simply noone utilizing this new style.
Soon the improved training and new technique started to pay off. With 16, Wong moved to practising with the junior national team of Hongkong. While he was certainly among the most talented, his ambitions were still far away from becoming a professional player at that point.
But soon that would change. Much like his sudden inspiration for a new stlye, Wong changed his perspective at another turning point, aged 18.
Jumpstart to the A-Team
During a national event, Wong lost his match to Ko Lai Chak with 0:4, which could be expected at this stage. But his intense gameplay and fierce determination gave Ko a hard time winning and drew attention of the national coaches who in turn invited Wong to the national team of Hong Kong. The youngstar was at the time roaming barely in the Top 1000 in the world ranking, so this invitation came as a big surprise to him.
Joining the team, Wong found a mentor – the 10 year older Tang Peng took a special interest in the young talent and knew how to impart his knowledge onto him. Sacrificing his own practise time, Tang advised Wong on tactics, technique and his personal fitness – while being a shakehand player himself. Tang had the privilege of playing in the chinese national team, which gave him insight into the practice and technique of Wang Hao, whose style was similar to Wong. Tang adivsed Wong on what he had learned from watching Wang.
„Without the demanding tutelage of Tang Peng and his constant advise and mentoring, I would have never made it to where I stand now.”
Wong has proven to be worth of the time and attention Tang provided. Yet, he remains grounded and humble:
„Even though my world ranking and recent performance has made me No. 1 in Hong Kong, it is still Tang Peng remaining as the back bone of our national team – all in terms of technique, tactics and determination.”
Wong Chun Ting has recently been to Butterfly Head quarters in Japan. We couldn’t resist asking him the 10 Questions:
Q1 : How would you describe your character?
„I tend to be a bit shy around people I am not familiar with. With friends, I am outgoing and friendly.”
Q2 : What is your special strength?
„I am able to cope with bad experiences quickly.”
Q3 : What was your best game so far?
„My victory at the Czech Open 2015. Throughout the tournament, I was not only playing well, but I had so much belief in my abilities. That whole tournament gave me confidence.”
Q4 : What was your worst game so far?
„At the Asian games 2014 in the quarter finals match versus Taiwan. We were in the lead by 2 games to 0 but I lost my match after having matchpoints! And then, we even lost the overall match.”
Q5 : Which countries do you like most?
„I made a lot of positiv experiences in many countries. In terms of food, I love it in Japan, and I would like to live in Spain.”
Q6 : Which players do you like best?
„I have a close friendship with Tang Peng.”
Q7 : How did you become so good in Hong Kong?
„I was supported by the HONG KONG SPORTS INSTITUTE – where many top athletes are united. It allows access to physicians, coaches and a lot more resources to help you improve. Then there was the support by the Hong Kong federation, enabling me to travel and compete all over the world. And not to the least, the support by my mentor Tang Peng.”
Q8 : You have been with Butterfly for a while. How do you like it?
„Butterfly is a famous company in table tennis. Many of the best players in the world play Butterfly equipment. Most impressive for me is the exceptional quality of Butterfly equipment.”
Q9 : What is your next goal?
„I want to win a medal at the Olympics either in the team competition or the singles. Last time, we were so close, finishing 4th.
Q10 : What does table tennis mean to you?
„It is such a big part of my life, and I have much to thank for. Table tennis changed my life.”
Thank you Wong!