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Reflections: Back from the brink, for Wang Nan lucky toy worked wonders

Tuesday 11 May

Responding in crucial situations, recovering from the very brink of defeat, at the height of her powers was there any player better at the art than Wang Nan?

At the Perrier 1998 ITTF Pro Tour Finals staged in Paris January 1999, in the women’s singles final, at the time also representing China, Lin Ling held match point in the fourth game and was serving.

Undaunted Wang Nan moved quicky and unleashed a strong forehand topspin to win the point and save the day; she won the final game with ease to clinch the title (21-23, 21-18, 19-21, 22-29, 21-9).

Later in the same year in the final of the women's singles at the Dawei World Championships in Eindhoven, Zhang Yining won the first two games, but the title went to Wang Nan. She changed gears and won the next three (15-21, 14-21, 21-15, 21-12, 21-11)

The following year was no different, the year when she performed the recovery of a lifetime, one of the greatest ever known. At the quarter-final stage of the women’s singles event at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, she saved five match points in the fourth game when facing Singapore’s Li Jiawei (18–21, 21–18, 19–21, 23–21, 21–16).

She progressed to win gold but was a hair’s breadth from having no medal at all!

Once again in 2001 from the jaws of defeat, eventually she prevailed. Facing national team colleague Yang Ying, she trailed by two games to nil at the semi­final stage of the women 's singles in the Kenshoen ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals.

Crucially, when it mattered she could keep the rally going that crucial stroke longer. She could topspin the ball a little stronger and she could follow up her service in more devastating fashion. She kept her opponent under pressure; she was alert to the situation and was enjoying the challenge.

“It also happens in national events, for me it's not unusual” was Wang Nan's reply. “It takes time for me to get into the rhythm of the match, I play better as a match progresses. It seems to be in the middle part of the match that I am at my best.”

Most significantly, when competing in the biggest theatres she performed her greatest recoveries.

“Two matches stand out as having had the most effect on me mentally and helping  me become stronger”, explained Wang Nan. “The match against Ryu Jihye at the Dawei 1999 World Championships in Eindhoven when I was 9-4 down in the fifth and won and of course the comeback against Lia Jiawei in the Sydney Olympics when I saved those match points.”

Facing Ryu Jihye in Eindhoven at the semi-final stage of the women’s singles event; in the vital fifth game, Wang Nan surrendered just six more points before securing victory (22-24, 21-9, 21-15, 16-21, 21-16).

Now, the question remains, why was Wang Nan able to achieve such great escapes, mental strength, good technique?

“My mother bought me a toy pet dog which I always take with me and keep in my hotel room when I go to tournaments, it brings me good luck”, smiled Wang Nan.

Now you know the answer, the key to escaping from the jaws of defeat.

Note: the interview with Wang Nan was conducted in 2002

Editor: Ian Marshall

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