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|Sunday, October 28, 2001, updated at 21:45(GMT+8)|
Versatility the Way-out for Chinese Table TennisWith table tennis as its national ball game, China has dominated the sport for some 40 years, except for a period during the 90s. Experts worldwide agree that an impressive and versatile array of techniques and tactics is the key to China's long-standing success.
To take challenges brought about somewhat by new rules adopted by the sport's world governing body the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), China has to sort out a way-out to stand leading the world in the new century.
And whether or not to hold on with the traditional mixture of game including pen-holding grip play with pimpled paddles and close-table fast attacks has become one of the most frequently talked topics among Chinese officials and coaches.
"We should not give up our traditional play and pen-holders are still of a bright future," said Cai Zhenhua, head coach of China's national team.
Cai, 40, a former world champion player, was obviously missing the later stage of the last century when Chinese players stunned the world with their varied style of play, which brought numerous major tournament titles to China.
Among the most successful Chinese players at the time were close-table pen-holder fast attackers Zhuang Zedong and Li Furong, "magic chopper" Zhang Xielin and, later, Ding Song, who was known of a unique combination of a shop game with attacks.
Nowadays more Chinese players of various age groups and technical levels tend, however, to play hand-shaking grip game with reverse rubber rackets. And more loopers are seen in the country, from members of the national teams to youngsters in amateur sports schools.
Cai recalled that he was surprised to see, at a recent national junior championships, that more than 85 percent of the youngsters were using reverse rubber rackets. The fact that many pen-holders were less successive than hand-shaking players at this year's world championships in Osaka seems to be able to support such a choice.
Cai admitted that the advantage of hand-shaking grip play could help a player to succeed more easily, at some occasions, and this might encourage many Chinese coaches to turn their smartest kids to hand-shaking grip players.
The Chinese head coach raised the case of Liu Guoliang, a pen-holder and forehand topspin attacker, who stunned the world by upsetting Sweden's world champion Jan-Ove Waldner in 1992's China Open. He used surreptitious backhand smashes with the reverse side of his racket in the competition. This was the first of his six victories over the Swedish ace.
Liu, who is famed of his tricky and strong service, however, is trying to adapt himself to changes of the game, such as the larger ball and new service rule.
Cai insisted that the traditional pen-holding grip play be maintained and these players definitely have a prosperous future.
"We need to raise players of different style. Our rivals feel it difficult to confront China, just because we have different types of players. We need versatility in play in our team. Any player could play a more powerful forehand game, which needs talent and brain to make up for the backhand disadvantage," he said.
Cai's ideas were echoed by Lu Yuansheng, deputy Chinese head coach. "We can not give up our traditional play of game. Of course we need to continue our creative approach in terms of techniques and style of game " he said.
Li Furong, who is now China's vice-minister of the State General Administration of Sports, has a strong objection to the singleness in techniques and style of game among Chinese players. "Versatility and continuous creativeness had helped China to lead the table tennis world for many years and current situation will definitely hamper a healthier and more sustained development of the sport in China," he said of the recent national games table tennis finals in Shantou, south China.
"We might have to work out preferential policies and measures to encourage some style of play including pen-holding game," he said. "We have to adapt ourselves to the constantly changing world," he added.
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