Nation’s resurgence still not meeting Liu’s lofty standards

Chinese paddlers finished the season on a high by winning four of the five gold medals on offer at last week’s ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

The performance showed the nation is restoring its dominance in the sport following a worrying lapse last year when Japanese talent ruled the tables.

However, Chinese Table Tennis Association chairman Liu Guoliang is warning against complacency, with the legendary former all-conquering player and coach claiming he was not entirely satisfied with the manner of China’s victories.

“Results-wise we achieved our goals, but the process of winning was not satisfying enough,” said Liu on Sunday.

“First of all, it’s about our players’ mentality and ability to cope with pressure, especially in our women’s squad-throughout the season, sometimes this one was better and sometimes that one, but no one has absolute dominance.

“We still have huge room for improvement in terms of our management system, daily standards and performance during competitions. Also, the skills of our players are still not good enough.”

Major strides, however, have been made since the 2018 season when Team China wilted in the face of the rising Japanese challenge.

That prompted a series of reforms from chairman Liu, who introduced a tough results-based evaluation system for coaches and split both the men’s and women’s squads into two teams.

According to Liu’s system, the four teams can only score points by winning gold medals at international tournaments. The world championship offers the greatest number of points (4,000), with 18,000 up for grabs across all competitions.

A total score of less than 12,000 ranks as a failure and could result in a coach being demoted and having his or her salary halved. Liu agreed to forego his entire salary as CTTA chairman should any team fail the evaluation.

“We earned 17,500 points of the 18,000 available by the end of the season,” said Liu.

“The coaches and the players worked closely this year. Honestly speaking, to not fail the evaluation system looked like quite a challenge for us at the beginning.

“We thought it would not be easy to even score 14,000 points, but in the end we had 17,500, which exceeded our expectations. However, despite achieving our goal, the process was still not good enough.”

Now, Team China is targeting a clean sweep of titles at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Liu is under no illusions just how difficult that will be.

“Our main rival, the Japanese squad, has also been trying to make a major breakthrough this season,” said Liu.

“World table tennis has improved greatly over the past year. Some young players, both male and female, are progressing quickly.

“There are only small gaps between us and others in terms of skills and mindset. So there’s still room for improvement in a lot of details and problems need to be solved in the run-up to the Olympics.”

Of the five golds up for grabs at the Games, the mixed doubles, which will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, appears to be the toughest task for China.

Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen reigned last weekend but Liu said: “The mixed doubles win in Zhengzhou deserves praise but we need to pay more attention to this discipline, as it’s still not enough now.

“Although Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen have had great results so far, they don’t have a big advantage. They are not where we want them to be yet. There will be only one mixed doubles team for each country in Tokyo, so each match for them will be like a final.”

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