Chinese paddlers still a class above the rest, say former world champions
Recent developments in the world of table tennis have hinted at China's decline.
Two Sundays ago, German world No. 4 Dimitrij Ovtcharov beat his countryman Timo Boll to win the Men's World Cup in Belgium. It was the first time since 1999 that neither of the finalists was from China.
In addition, Japanese media reported earlier this month that the highly competitive Chinese Table Tennis Super League has barred Japanese paddlers from competing in the tournament.
According to the reports, the league typically applies restrictions on foreign participation a year before the Olympics, but will bring forward the restriction to this year, in light of the rise of Japanese talents such as Miu Hirano, Kasumi Ishikawa and Koki Niwa.
But former world champions Vladimir Samsonov and Jiang Jialiang said China will still be table tennis' top dogs at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
"I think it's very positive for us that at least Europeans won such an important event (like the World Cup)," Samsonov of Belarus told The New Paper at the sidelines of a T2 Asia-Pacific Table Tennis League (T2Apac) showcase at the Singapore Table Tennis Association's Toa Payoh headquarters yesterday.
Stars of the new mixed-team competition, including Samsonov and China's Shi Xunyao sparred with Singapore's juniors and national paddlers, ahead of the sixth round of the tournament in Johor this week.
"Whether it will happen in the future I don't know, but I think it will not be what it was like for the past 10 years where Chinese players were really winning everything," added Samonsov, 41, who in 1999 beat Werner Schlager in the last World Cup final without Chinese representation.
"Now at least there is a chance that some Japanese players can fight against the best Chinese players. Europeans like Timo Boll and Ovtcharov can also do something.
"I think China will still be No. 1, but I think the difference is that the other countries might be closer."
Chinese legend Jiang, who is also part of the T2Apac entourage, added that, despite the occasional losses, Chinese paddlers are still a cut above the rest.
"Japanese players will still not be able to beat the Chinese players, not in the next five years," the 53-year-old said.
"As for the Europeans, they haven't really improved (as a whole) and there are no new talents coming through from the continent, and it's a big problem for them.
"China still have a lot more talent, so to lose occasionally is not a problem."