Hello About.com readers,
Since my last posting, things have been quite busy for me. I have returned to Australia from playing League in Germany, commenced my final year of University study, and in between have managed to find time for a short trip to China. My Chinese expedition will be the focus of this article.
A Rare OpportunityI have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to train on two previous occasions at the National Key Table Tennis School in Chengdu, in the Sichuan Province of China. However, this time around I was extremely lucky to be able to secure a position on the Chengdu Team in the first half of the season of the Chinese League competition. I am currently in the middle of the first semester of University, but an opportunity to play league matches in China was simply too good to turn down. So I set off for a 16 day journey to China, which consisted of 7 days of training, 6 days of league competition, and 3 days of traveling. The league system in China is quite different to those in Europe; in China we played two teams matches a day for 6 days, and this completes the first half of the season. The second half of the season is played in the same format later in the year.
Familiar SurroundingsIt was good to get back to the same club in China where I had previously trained, as it is much easier knowing the routine and most of the people around the club. Also training at the same school at this time was the German Junior girl's and boy's teams, including some of the players I had known from my time in Germany, so it was good to catch up with them again.
It was straight down to business as I started training the morning after arriving, and I managed to put in a very solid 30 hour week in on the table. Included in this training was an internal round robin tournament consisting of all the 20 best boys at the club, which provided an excellent spring-board for the league matches I would play the following week. It also gave me an ideal opportunity to practice some new routines and strategies I have been working on with my sports psychologist at the South Australian Sports Institute.
Tough Travel and Amazing NumbersAfter this week of training, the Chengdu team set off for the city of Yichun, in Jianxi Province. We sent away 3 boy's teams and 2 girl's teams, along with our coach Mr. Chen Pi Guo (who fortunately for me is fluent in English). To get to Yichun was an arduous task. A 24 hour train ride was followed by a 3 hour trip in a mini bus packed full of people and luggage, with no seat belts traveling in the middle of the night. However, we arrived without any drama and the following day we had our only available allocated time slot to practice before the event started the following morning.
There was a staggering 32 groups of 6 teams consisting of 3 or 4 players playing in the men's competition. So that equates to 192 teams and between 576 and 768 players competing, and the women's competition had similar numbers. Out of all of the competitors I was the only foreigner, which certainly got me a few odd looks and some increased attention from the locals and the camera people. The sheer magnitude of the competition meant that 2 adjacent stadiums had to be used, and that the match schedule was extremely tight. In fact, just 1 hour was allotted for each teams match, which could have a maximum of 5 rubbers being played.
Down To BusinessWe had a very tough first round match against Hong Kong and unfortunately went down 3-0, although we weren't without a chance as I went down 3-2 as did our number 3 player. Following this match we only had 1 more hiccup in the round robin stage of the tournament. So after we had completed our 5 round robin matches, we had won 3 and lost 2 and finished in third place in our group, and from a personal perspective I had won 5, and lost 2 matches.
The system in China works in a way that all the 1st and 2nd ranked teams from each group then play off for positions 1-64, the 3rd and 4th ranked teams play off for positions 65-128, and the 5th and 6th teams play off for positions 129-192. In this knock-out phase if you win you keep going to play off for a higher position, and if you lose you play off for a lower position. With this format it is crucial to win early matches in order to finish in the higher placings.
Our team played some good table tennis and toughed out some good wins and managed to win 4 out of 6 of our knock-out phase matches and finished the competition in a credible 75th place. This may not sound overly successful, but when you consider that my team mates were relatively young and inexperienced and that 192 teams started the competition, we actually had quite a good time of things.
Personally, I managed to hit some pretty good form in the knock-out phase to win 10 matches, and lose only 1; this meant that I finished the competition with a 15 wins, 3 losses ratio. I was extremely pleased with my results, considering I did not know what to expect coming into the event, and also given the fact that conditions were vastly different to anything I had experienced before playing in Europe or Australia.