Sunday, August 17, 2008

SHOCKER: china wins gold in women's teams!

For anyone who didn't pick it up, the title is completely sarcastic. However, even though it comes as absolutely no surprise that China coasted to the gold without dropping a single match, the Chinese players never cease to amaze. Their abilities are in no way overrated, exaggerated, or anything short of stunning; all the hours spent practicing and making what you may think are awesome shots seem like child's play when you see Zhang Yining making shots as easily as you spell your name.

The stands were completely packed for this final. Even Hu Jingtao was there... the pressure was most definitely on, but China pulled through. In the teams final against Singapore, China did something completely unexpected, but after you think about it, it made complete sense. They sent Wang Nan, the oldest and, relatively speaking, the weakest, to play in the first spot (generally reserved for the strongest player). She ended up playing Feng Tianwei, the opposite of what Singapore had wanted; Singapore's ideal match-up would have been Feng vs Zhang and Li Jiawei vs Wang. However, with this match-up, it was experience and consistency (in Wang) vs youth and nerves (in Feng), and speed and a great backhand (in Li) vs un-human consistency and an even better backhand (in Zhang). On top of that, the strongest parts of Feng's game are her backhand and forehand from the backhand corner; since Wang is left-handed, she would be able to control the game easily by using her strongest weapon, her backhand, against Feng's weakest shot, her forehand.

Feng was clearly nervous, with this being her first Olympic appearance and with her in the #1 spot, and couldn't do much against the experienced, calm Wang Nan. Feng won the first game, but lost the next three games, in which she didn't play anywhere near her normal level, making too many unforced errors, and not playing enough to Wang Nan's forehand. She clearly looked upset with herself and sort of at a loss after the second game. As I watched the match, the more I thought that Singapore had made a mistake putting Feng in the first spot. Even if they wanted her to play Zhang, the chances of Feng winning would still be small, and it would have put an insane amount of pressure on Li. Granted, that scenario would be a lot better than the one Singapore ended up getting, but either way, there really wasn't much of a chance that China would lose.

Li Jiawei vs Zhang Yining was a much better match than the scores indicate; Li lost 3-1 (-9, 3, 4, 7), but there were some absolutely spectacular, long points. Li started out looking great, leading Zhang 10-5. Zhang caught up to 10-9, but lost the game by missing her own serve. From this point on, Li looked less and less confident, and Zhang looked more and more dominating. The scores may show that Zhang completely rolled over Li, but Li really did put up a great fight. As her coach, honestly, what could you possibly say to her? No matter what she did or how amazing her shots were, Zhang put everything back on the table. Anyone watching the match could clearly see that Zhang Yining's technique and mechanics are just flat-out better than everyone else's. Her game is by no means a power game, and, by themselves, her forehand and backhand really aren't anything special, and you would never teach her strokes to anyone (her timing is extraordinarily late, and she doesn't really swing through the ball). What makes her special and more consistent than everyone else is her balance; she is a very tall person, so she already covers a lot of ground, but no matter how far you spread her out, she's still able to make a quality return AND get to the next one in plenty of time. She never seems to be falling over or leaning, and her ability to keep her feet on the ground and maintain her balance is the reason she almost never misses high balls, or really any shots, for that matter. Really, the only way to beat Zhang Yining is to blow her away in the first couple of shots, because anyone who gets into a drawn-out, long rally with her will lose 80% of the time, as we saw with Li Jiawei. Even Gao Jun, who has an incredibly consistent game, can't out-steady Zhang Yining. In any case, Li didn't really have good strategy. She served to set herself up for backhand-to-backhand rallies, the last thing you should do against Zhang Yining. It wasn't until the 4th game that Li got aggressive and opened with her forehand and stepped around a bit. Actually, there were a few points throughout the match in which Li went forehand-to-forehand for a couple of exchanges, but after she didn't win the point right away, she lost patience and hit back to Zhang's backhand. Anyway, the match was much closer than the scores show, and the performance Zhang put on really was something to watch and learn from.

Men's teams continue today, with Austria playing Korea for the bronze at 2:30 (Beijing time), and China playing Germany for the silver and gold at 7:30 (yay for non-Asian teams going for medals!). Also, women's singles preliminary rounds begin today at 10am.


Anonymous said...

ha ha ha , I can't help laughing at your comments, zhang is able to return all the shots just because of her height and good balance, she's able to reach out to a lot of areas and return the balls....

what a joke, I'm not a fan of zhang, but it's a fact that zhang's skills is way better than our own li jiawei. There's certainly a gap between them and this is already the 14th match that she lost to zhang. Li jiawei herself says it and she know the fact.

Anonymous said...

and to add a fact our Li Jiawei is taller than zhang that China player.

wahaha, this is the first time that I read such a silly comment and yes you can continue posting these at your personal blog. The smart ones will know.

Anonymous said...


Just tot of sharing some observations. Saw the replay of the final match between china and s'pore yesterday again. I saw till the end of the prize giving ceremony. Was curious how the world champion esp. zhang yining reacted after getting the gold medal. Not her usual self and pretty chatty all the way. Delighted i suppose after successfully defending her title.

But it was towards the end that I was quite shocked when zhang and the rest posed for photos. Guo Yue was sort of blocking zhang's face when she held her hands up. Guess what, zhang pushed Guo's hand a bit and judging from her lip movements, zhang's telling her younger counterpart not to block her - 'Don't block me' in chinese. Wow, tat's something i don't expect from a world champion. Tot she's a goody and unassuming person. Haiz, guess she must have enjoyed very much to be in the limelight receiving the glamour and cheers from her fellowmen. Wat to say, she has the ability to do what she wants. :op