Fans return to cheer China paddlers' success

Ma Long hitting a forehand against Chinese compatriot Fan Zhendong in Zhengzhou. He won a record-extending sixth ITTF Finals title.
Ma Long hitting a forehand against Chinese compatriot Fan Zhendong in Zhengzhou. He won a record-extending sixth ITTF Finals title.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ZHENGZHOU • The ITTF Finals concluded yesterday, marking the successful return of Chinese fans to an international tournament for the first time since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in the country in late January.

The four-day event ended with Ma Long taking his sixth men's singles title after beating fellow Chinese and world No. 1 Fan Zhengdong 13-11, 11-7, 12-10, 9-11, 11-8. In the women's final, Chen Meng outlasted Wang Manyu 11-9, 11-13, 14-12, 11-8, 11-5 for a fourth crown.

Both matches were held in front of a crowd, leaving players and officials delighted with the support at the Zhengzhou Olympic Sports Centre in Henan province.

"We are back," said International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) chief executive officer Steve Dainton.

"Hearing the cheers of the audience and seeing everyone waving passionately, a long-lost sense of familiarity returned," said World Table Tennis council chair and president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association Liu Guoliang.

"Our players are back on the playing field, and this time, our fans are also back in the house."

Dainton added: "When they applaud and cheer for you, you feel this is the real competition."

To ensure a safe environment, organisers implemented stringent anti-virus measures, with supporters required to scan a contact-tracing code.

The number of spectators could not exceed half the capacity of the venue but the players were grateful they were even present.

"I cherish the moment on the court," said Fan. "It will not be the case when matches are played behind closed doors. I appreciate that so many people cheer for me and follow this sport after such a long time."

Ma added: "Maybe there are thousands of people who are making a contribution to offering a safe environment for us players. We know it involves a lot of dedication."

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    Number of fans let into Zhengzhou Olympic Sports Centre's gym were limited to half of its 6,200 capacity.

Liu said: "Every event we delivered and every result we achieved brings the world of competitive sports one step closer to being free to play.

"Behind all this is the firm belief of everyone in the table tennis family; no winter is invincible, no spring is forever lost."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2020, with the headline 'Fans return to cheer China paddlers' success'. Subscribe