SINGAPORE – After sweeping all the table tennis gold medals at three consecutive Olympics since 2008, China’s proud streak ended when veterans Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen lost to Japan’s Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito in the mixed doubles final at the 2020 Games.
The loss led to Liu breaking down in tears in a subsequent interview and the pair issuing a public apology to their country.
But a new dawn is beckoning for China in the mixed doubles.
Just four months after the Tokyo Olympics, Wang Chuqin and Sun Yingsha won the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships in which Xu and Liu did not compete.
Wang and Sun, both 22, retained their Singapore Smash title at the OCBC Arena on Thursday, offering hope that China can make a clean sweep again at Paris 2024.
In a repeat of the 2021 world championships final, the top-seeded pair beat Japanese third seeds Tomokazu Harimoto and Hina Hayata 3-1 (11-2, 5-11, 11-9, 11-8) in 39 minutes.
Sun, who is also the singles world No. 1, said maybe they were lucky, adding: “There were good exchanges between the two teams. Their overall standards and understanding of mixed doubles have greatly improved.”
She added that they still need to work on finer details ahead of their world title defence in May, while Wang also anticipates a tougher time at upcoming competitions as “every country is putting more emphasis on this event”.
“The Singapore Smash is like the ‘mid-term exam’ before the world championships and the level of competition is around the same,” said Wang, adding that they will set goals for themselves in the lead up to the 2024 Games.
The world No. 1s had raced to an 11-2 lead before the Japanese world No. 4s fought back to win the second game and tie the match at 1-1.
They were neck and neck in the third game before two good serves from Sun at 9-9 gave the Chinese the 2-1 lead.
That proved the turning point as Sun and Wang’s aggressive returns in rallies resulted in their win – much to the delight of the crowd, who cheered for them throughout.
Sun and Wang are in the running for two more titles, the singles and doubles in their respective genders.
Sun beat Germany’s Nina Mittelham 3-0 (11-6, 11-8, 11-6) to advance to the last eight, where she will face South Korean world No. 104 Joo Cheon-hui.
Joo pulled off a stunning 3-1 (9-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-7) victory over Japanese world No. 8 Kasumi Ishikawa.
Sun later partnered Wang Manyu to a 3-1 (11-6, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5) win over Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem and Zhu Chengzhu in the women’s doubles quarter-finals.
For Harimoto, it was his second loss of the day, after falling in straight games to world No. 14 Quadri Aruna in the singles round of 16.
Before Thursday, Aruna had never beaten the world No. 4, with just one win in their three meetings. But Harimoto had no answer to the Nigerian’s speed and powerful returns.
Aruna, 34, who frequently travels for competitions alone, said advice from other coaches in Singapore helped him get the win.
“This is another good outing for me and I’m very happy to have positive memories in Singapore.
“It’s another quarter-final for me here (after the 2021 WTT Cup Finals) and I hope to make it count this time,” he said.
Aruna will face Brazilian Hugo Calderano, who beat Slovenian Darko Jorgic 3-1, for a spot in the last four.
In other key results, French teenager Felix Lebrun’s run ended after a narrow 3-2 (12-10, 11-8, 4-11, 5-11, 11-9) defeat by German Qiu Dang in the round of 16.