U.S., China commemorate ping-pong diplomacy at Table Tennis Worlds

Society & Culture

Lily Zhang — playing with her Chinese partner Lin Gaoyuan in mixed doubles — became the first American to win a medal at the Table Tennis World Championships in 62 years.

U.S.-China mixed doubles
Lily Zhang (U.S.) and Lin Gaoyuan (China), mixed doubles

The biennial ITTF World Table Tennis Championships began last week in Houston, with a new-look China team turning in strong performances.

Without Tokyo double-gold medalist Mǎ Lóng 马龙 and men’s doubles champion Xǔ Xīn 许昕, China arrived in Texas with a younger team and an eye on the building process toward the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Wáng Chǔqīn 王楚欽 and Sūn Yǐngshā 孙颖莎 won the mixed doubles gold on Sunday, sweeping Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto and Hina Hayata 3-0. Chinese players are represented in three of the four singles finals that will be contested today, the final day of competition.

Beyond the sporting angle, however, the biggest story was the entry of two U.S.-China teams in the mixed doubles to mark the 50th anniversary of ping-pong diplomacy.

The American paddlers Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha teamed up with China’s Lín Gāoyuǎn 林高遠 and Wáng Mànyù 王曼昱, and both pairs had success. One pair even made history. Zhang and Lin made it to the semifinals, meaning Zhang, a five-time U.S. national champion whose parents were born in China, has secured the U.S.’s first table tennis medal since 1959.

Jha and Wang showed flashes, but narrowly lost 3-2 to India’s Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra in the Round of 16.

China is assured of at least one more gold, as Wang Manyu takes on Sun Yingsha in the finals later this evening. Wang and Sun, interestingly enough, are doubles teammates, and five hours before their singles clash, they’ll play with one another to take on Japan’s Hina Hayata and Mima Ito in the women’s doubles finals.

The final match of the tournament will be the men’s singles championship, contested between world No. 1 Fán Zhèndōng 樊振东 and 19-year-old Truls Moregard from Sweden. As a side note, Moregard played a historic quarterfinals against Nigerian Quadri Aruna, who was the first African to reach the Round of 8 at the ITTF World Championships.

Liang Jingkun takes a point off Fan Zhendong in the semifinals, though would ultimately lose 4-1 to the world No. 1. Via @WTTGlobal

Also see:

50 years of work on U.S.-China relations

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Former snooker champ lashes out following loss to Chinese amateur

2008 snooker world champion Shaun Murphy reacted angrily after suffering an embarrassing first-round defeat at the UK Championship, claiming that his 6-5 loss at the hands of 19-year-old Chinese amateur Sī Jiāhuī 斯佳辉 was “not fair.”

Murphy railed against the inclusion of amateur players in the major tournament in the immediate aftermath of his defeat to Si, who lost his professional status after falling off the main tour last year.

“I am going to sound like a grumpy old man, but that young man shouldn’t be in the tournament,” Murphy told BBC Radio 5 Live. “I feel extremely hard done by that I have lost to someone who shouldn’t even be in the building.”

Murphy went on to say:

“The other 127 runners and riders in the tournament, it is their livelihood too. It is wrong, in my opinion, to walk into somebody who is not playing with the same pressures and concerns I am.

“He played like a man who does not have a care in the world because he does not have a care in the world. It is not fair, it is not right.

“I am not picking on him as a young man, he deserved his victory. Amateurs should not be allowed in professional tournaments, the end.

“This is our livelihood. This is how I put food on the table. This is how I earn money. Since turning professional at 15, I have earned the right to call myself a professional snooker player. He hasn’t done that. He shouldn’t be on the table.”

“We respect Shaun’s opinions but in this case we strongly disagree with his comments,” World Snooker Tour replied.

Murphy has since apologized to Si. “I think if I could go back in time I perhaps wouldn’t have said what I said, having just lost to Si Jiahui,” he told BBC.

“I think it took the shine off his victory and I regret that, and I’d like to apologize to him for that.”

Though it probably isn’t much comfort to Murphy, No. 1 seeded (and defending champion) Neil Robertson also lost in the opening round to an amateur player, John Astley.

The UK Championships, which concludes on December 5, have been mixed for China’s players. Dīng Jùnhuī 丁俊晖, seeded 10th, and Yán Bǐngtāo 颜丙涛, seeded 12th, both fell in the round of 64, losing to players ranked outside the top 50. But five Chinese players remain in the tournament, with 17th ranked Zhōu Yuèlóng 周跃龙 representing China’s best remaining hope.

The 23-year-old Zhou faces 16th-ranked Anthony McGill in the last 32 on Tuesday. If he can get past the Scot, he’ll face an easier road to the finals.

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Other Stories:

A Player Goes Missing, And Women’s Tennis Takes On China (WSJ)

Do Sports Still Need China? (NY Times)

More businesses will stand up to China after Peng Shuai (Bloomberg)

The China market is lucrative for the sports business, but at what cost? (CNN)

What could a diplomatic boycott achieve? (Deutsche Welle)

Enes Kanter calls Joe Tsai a coward and puppet of the Chinese government (NBC)

Geng Wenqiang wins China’s first world title in Skeleton (CGTN)

China’s best Brood War player, Mihu, has qualified for the Bombastic StarLeague, one of the most prestigious non-Korean tournaments in the game. Here’s an interview Mihu gave in advance of the tournament:

And here was his first BSL match:


The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.