23 July 2020
Volkswagen 2004 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals: Guo Yue adds to youngest ever list
Success in Beijing on Sunday 12th December, only 16 years old at the time, China’s Guo Yue added to her list of teenage record breaking successes. She won the women’s singles title at Volkswagen 2004 Pro Tour Grand Finals; thus becoming the youngest player ever to claim the honour, a record that stands to this day.
A notable win when considering her age, it was notable in another respect. In ITTF Pro Tour tournaments in November 2004 she had suffered earlier exits than perhaps anticipated; in Leipzig at the Volkswagen Open, Germany she had lost in the last 16 to Li Xiaoxia, the following week in Austria Cao Zhen had ended progress.
Victory at the Volkswagen Pro Tour Grand Finals was therefore perhaps a somewhat unexpected result but in Beijing she was most impressive. She won the title without ever being extended the full seven games distance.
In the opening round she beat Singapore’s Li Jia Wei in straight games (11-5, 11-6, 12-10, 11-3), before facing the defensive skills of Korea Republic’s Kim Kyung Ah, the player who had won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Athens in August.
Against Li Jia Wei, the Chinese teenager had under lined her credentials when faced with a fast attacking player; against Kim Kyungah she showed she was equally comfortable when playing a defensive artist of high calibre. She beat Kim Kyungh in five games (11-5, 11-13, 11-9, 11-6, 11-4), giving a most mature performance, playing consistently, waiting for the opportunity and then executing a fast topspin to end proceedings.
Next to suffer against Guo Yue was the reigning World champion, Wang Nan. It was a case of whoever could execute the first fast forehand topspin early in the rally was the player more likely to win the point; both were at their best close to the table, attacking quickly, so the one forced to retreat usually lost the point.
Guo Yue took the first two games, both close affairs, before Wang Nan won the third 11-8, having made an electric start to lead 8-2; longer rallies were now becoming a feature of the contest. Guo Yue more than held her own against a more experienced opponent. The fourth game, like the first two, was close with Guo Yue once again succeeding 11-9. In the fifth game she went ahead 4-1 but then lost the next six points before levelling matters at 7-all; she then won the next two points prompting Wang Nan to call “time out”. However, it was to no avail, the next two points both went to Guo Yue and a place in the final was duly reserved (11-9, 11-9, 8-11, 11-9, 11-7).
One round earlier, Wang Nan displaying a new hair style, hair cut short, had beaten the top seed Zhang Yining in the quarter-finals (12-10, 4-11, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10). The two players facing each other in international competition was nothing new but meeting at the quarter-final stage was unusual. The reason they faced each other in the quarters was that the seeding in the Volkswagen Pro Tour Grand Finals was based on their final position on the ITTF Pro Tour Standings as opposed to their current world ranking.
The final saw Guo Yue face her women's doubles partner, Niu Jianfeng, the defending champion. Niu Jianfeng had been very much the player in form prior to the Volkswagen Pro Tour Grand Finals but on the only two previous occasions that the pair had met in international competition, Guo Yue had prevailed. She had beaten Niu Jianfeng at the semi-final stage of the ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals in Stockholm in 2002 and at the same stage in the Volkswagen Japan Open one year later.
En route to the final, Niu Jianfeng had overcome Hong Kong's Tie Yana in round one (11-9, 11-6, 12-10, 11-6) and Croatia' s Tamara Boros (9-11, 11-7, 11-3, 8-11, 11-4, 11-4) in the quarters to book a semi-final place where she duly accounted for Liu Jia of Austria (11-8, 11-9, 7-11, 11-5, 11-5). The semi-final stage therefore saw four players who were born in China on duty but only one was born in Beijing, ironically that player was Liu Jia.
In the final it was Guo Yue started the more confident of the two players. She won the first 11-8, then in the second recovered from a 9-10 deficit to win 12-10, before totally dominating the third game to move within striking distance of the title. Full of confidence Guo Yue went ahead 5-2 in the fourth but Niu Jianfeng recovered to 8-all, then she won the next two points to go 10-8 ahead; Guo Yue levelled at 10-all and saved two further game points, before Niu Jianfeng eventually succeeded 14-12 to reduce the arrears in the contest to two games.
Winning the fourth game appeared to give Niu Jianfeng renewed confidence. She went ahead 8-4 in the fifth but Guo Yue recovered to lead 11-10. Niu Jianfeng won the next two points but the champion elect levelled at 12-all, then had two chances to end proceedings; on the second occasion calling a “time out” at 14-13, no doubt to collect her thoughts. However, the break worked in favour of Niu Jianfeng who, with fortune on her side, won the next three points and reduced the arrears to one solitary game.
Guo Yue had surrendered three match points. It seemed the momentum of the match may well have turned in favour of the defending champion; however, the teenager started the sixth game in an extremely determined style. She led 4-1, then 8-2 and at 10-6 had a fourth match point. Niu Jianfeng, serving, won the next two points but at that juncture a superb topspin rally, with both players showing their incredible skills, ended with success for Guo Yue.
The teenager from Liaoning was the champion, a tournament in which she had been in the same half of the draw as the Olympic champion, Zhang Yining; the World champion, Wang Nan and the Olympic Games bronze medallist Kim Kyungah!
Guo Yue won a Volkswagen Carbriolet car for her efforts; just one problem, she was too young to drive!