Li Xiaoxia wins in London, changes name
Miss number two, it was the nickname gained from a section of her fans; on Wednesday 1st August in London’s ExCeL Arena, 24 years old at the time, Li Xiaoxia set the record straight.
She won the women’s singles title at the London 2012 Olympic Games and thus owned the most precious prize the sport has to offer.
The rather unwanted tag had arisen because in three consecutive World Championships, she had gained a place on the women’s singles podium but never the top step. In 2007 in Zagreb and 2011 in Rotterdam she had been the runner up, in 2009 in Yokohama, the bronze medallist.
Meanwhile, after winning the Women’s World Cup in 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, she had finished in third place in 2009 in Guangzhou, the runner up in 2011 in Singapore.
Somewhat similarly, at the ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals, she had secured the women’s singles title in 2007 in Beijing but in 2006 in Hong Kong had concluded play the runner up. In 2011 in London, the test event for the 2012 Olympic Games, she was the bronze medallist.
In England’s capital city, Li Xiaoxia delighted her supporters but there were some nervous moments; irrespective of trying to diffuse the nickname, she was under pressure.
She was the no.2 seed behind colleague Ding Ning; she was expected at the very least to gain a medal. Additionally, at the immediately preceding Liebherr 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund, she had been the only member of the Chinese medal winning team to have lost a match. In the semi-final success against Hong Kong, she had lost to Tie Yana (12-10, 11-9, 7-11, 14-12).
Contributing factors but the most significant of all was that it was the Olympic Games, moreover it was her debut in the prestigious quadrennial multi-sport gather. The occasion was like no other.
Commencing her quest in the third round, her very first match in the Olympic arena, the nerves was apparent. After four games it was parity against 16-year-old Ariel Hsing of the United States, strength of character was needed, she had not only to fight against a most spirited opponent, also against herself. She gritted her teeth to win the next two (11-4, 9-11, 11-6, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9) and booked a fourth round place. Great credit to Ariel Hsing, it was a splendid performance, but it was a very tense Li Xiaoxia; the normal fluency to her play was missing.
One hurdle traversed, Korea Republic’s Park Miyoung awaited; again, the nerves were evident. Time and again we had seen Li Xiaoxia steamroller defenders into submission; facing Park Miyoung, she lost to opening game before finding a rhythm to her play and overpowering the backspin play of her opponent in trademark fashion (6-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-5, 11-6).
Two rounds to adjust to the atmosphere and the occasion; a fluent Li Xiaoxia accounted for Li Jiao of the Netherlands (11-5, 11-9, 11-9, 11-7) and Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa (11-5, 11-4, 11-13, 11-6, 11-7) to reserve a place in the final where Ding Ning awaited. Li Xiaoxia duly prevailed, overcoming Ding Ning who was faulted on her service, at one stage being awarded a penalty point, distraught she was below her best (11-8, 14-12, 8-11, 11-6, 11-4).
Nevertheless, those facts should not detract from the efforts of Li Xiaoxia; the focus was total, the technical skills perfection, the complete player was the Olympic champion.
One year later in Paris, Li Xiaoxia won the women’s singles title at the Liebherr 2013 World Championships; thus, she joined colleagues Deng Yaping, Wang Nan and Zhang Yining as owners of the four major titles to sport has to offer – Olympic Games, World Championships, World Cup and ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals.
Now, miss number two could lay just claim to a new title, a new accolade, miss number one.
Editor: Ian Marshall