SINGAPORE – When the going gets tough on court, China’s world No. 4 Wang Manyu revisits her triumph at the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships to find confidence and reassurance.
But, while winning the women’s singles gold in Houston remains the most memorable moment in her career, she is not dwelling on it ahead of her title defence in May because “my desire to win or improve will fade if I just rest on it”.
In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times at the ongoing Singapore Smash 2023, the 24-year-old said in Mandarin: “It’s a beautiful moment that I reminisce on from time to time. It’s true that it gave me lots of confidence.
“Now when I face defeat, I’ll think back on that moment and remind myself that I’m still a great player and to not doubt my ability.
“There’s a saying that goes ‘everything starts from zero once you get off the podium’. I can’t keep getting fixated about my past achievements and should set my eyes on the future and not my past glory.”
The Heilongjiang native first picked up the bat aged five and soon discovered a flair for the sport.
When she had to choose between her studies and going pro when she was nine, it was a no-brainer. She trained with the state team from 2008 before joining the national youth team in 2013 and moved up to the national team three years later.
The soft-spoken Wang paid tribute to her family for their unwavering support. Her parents and grandmother moved to Harbin where she was training and sold “rou jia mo” (a sort of Chinese hamburger) for a living.
Though she was stoic during the interview, giving away little by way of expression or emotion, she answered each question earnestly.
She said: “Back then, they had to find a way of making a living in an unfamiliar city. My family’s economic situation wasn’t great... and they had to support my career. It was a very tough period.
“(We lived in) the north-eastern region of China where it is very cold. On some winter days, my parents had to wake up early to sell the buns. I knew and understood every small thing they did to support me.
“They were good role models who taught me tenacity and how to endure hardship. I learnt a lot from them and worked very hard too, hoping to reduce their economic burden.”
Her family’s situation improved a few years ago and while she sees them at least once a year during Chinese New Year, they are in constant communication.
“They check on me, ask about my health and show their concern and support during competitions. I do miss them, but... I’m used to living away from my family.
“What my achievements have brought to my family is honour, more than anything else, something that has made them proud of me.”
No doubt they will be cheering her on back home as she competes at the Singapore Smash, as well as in the world championships in May, when she will face stiff competition from her compatriots Sun Yingsha, Chen Meng and Wang Yidi, who are ranked in the top three.
Wang Manyu and Sun are also reigning women’s doubles champions.
The upcoming championships in South Africa will also have an added significance as it is part of China’s selection criteria for the 2024 Olympics. At Tokyo 2020, Wang replaced the injured Liu Shiwen to help the women’s team clinch gold.
Despite the intense competition within the national team, she is still enjoying the “positive and healthy environment” even as she keeps “my goal (at Paris 2024) to myself”.
She said: “I hope to start from zero again this year... It’s my hope to play well this coming May. Everyone understands its importance. I still hope to... play my best table tennis at every competition.”