Winner upstaged in Guangzhou
The 2020 Women’s World Cup is on the horizon; China’s Chen Meng, named in top spot on the world rankings, starts as the favourite; it is an opportunity for the 26-year-old to add to her list of titles. Also, it is an opportunity for a player to make a name for themselves.
Such was the situation at the Heng Da 2005 Women’s World Cup staged in Guangzhou from Tuesday 13th to Sunday 15th December; Zhang Yining concluded play the winner as status advised but at 16 years of age, on debut, Ai Fukuhara emerged the player to note.
Zhang Yining started proceedings as the favourite. She duly justified her billing, notably the most exacting match being her very first encounter, when she was taken the full seven games distance by the most experienced player in the tournament, Gao Jun of the United States (7-11, 5-11, 11-3, 11-3, 5-11, 11-8, 11-7).
A testing start but a confidence boost, in the remaining group matches she beat both the Korean defender, Kim Kyungah (11-5, 11-6, 11-9, 11-9) and the African champion, Victorine Agum Fomum (11-3, 11-4, 11-2, 11-3), in straight games to qualify for the second stage, where Guo Yue provided the immediate opposition. A slow start, Zhang Yining lost the opening two games against her compatriot, before winning the next four (9-11, 7-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-8, 13-11) to reserve her semi-final place where she overcame Hong Kong’s Tie Yana (11-8, 11-9, 11-5, 11-9), prior to securing the title at the expense of colleague, Guo Yan in a similar imperious manner (11-8, 14-12, 11-7, 11-5).
Gold for Zhang Yining, silver for Guo Yan; an outcome that did not raise the eyebrows; conversely, the third place gained by Ai Fukuhara more than attracted the attention.
In the group stage she caused Hong Kong problems. She overcame Lin Ling (12-10, 11-6, 11-9, 11-7) and Lau Sui Fei (11-7, 11-5, 11-8, 10-12, 12-10), before securing first position by defeating Singapore’s Li Jia Wei (11-4, 11-3, 14-12, 6-11, 12-10).
A quarter-final place reserved, she ousted Gao Jun (13-11, 10-12, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8, 11-7), prior to experiencing defeat at the hands of Guo Yan (6-11, 11-3, 7-11, 12-10, 9-11, 11-2, 11-6).
Thus the bronze medal match awaited; once again Hong Kong provided the opponent. She beat Tie Yana an seven games (6-11, 11-3, 7-11, 12-10,, 9-11, 11-2, 11-6).
Notably, Ai Fukuhara was to play in seven further editions of the Women’s World Cup; she never advanced beyond the quarter-finals, her first was her best!