At the pinnacle of her career, is Tokyo the perfect time for Chen Meng?
by Ian Marshall, Editor
She did not play in Austria but then won for the third consecutive year at the Grand Finals, before starting this year by succeeding on the ITTF World Tour in Germany and then in Qatar.
It is a quite remarkable run of form; how near is she to achieving the status players from her country who we may consider legends of the sport? Notably, she has never competed in an Olympic Games nor in the Women’s World Cup. Last year at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships, she came perilously close to gold in Budapest, she was beaten in the final by compatriot Liu Shiwen.
Close at the World Championships but the pinnace is Olympic gold; now 26 years old, if given the opportunity is Tokyo 2020 be the ideal time in her career? Could four years hence in Paris just be too late?
Zhang Yining the oldest
Always claimed by China, the oldest player to win women’s singles gold at an Olympic Games is Zhang Yining; when she won for the second consecutive time in 2008 in Beijing, she was 27 years old. Virtually the current age of Chen Meng.
In 1988 Chen Jing, the first ever winner when she succeeded in Seoul was 20 years of age; on the second occasion when Deng Yaping prevailed in 1996 in Atlanta, she was 23 years old. Later in 2000 in Sydney, Wang Nan was 22 years old, in London in 2012 Li Xiaoxia 24 years old, in Rio de Janeiro, Ding Ning 26 years old.
Note those names, except for Chen Jing who did enjoy success on the ITTF World Tour but for whom the Women’s World Cup came too late; the five other Olympic Games women’s singles gold medallists have all one factor in common, a factor it will take some effort for Chen Meng to achieve.
In addition to Olympic gold, all have won the women’s singles title at the World Championships, the Women’s World Cup and the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals; Chen Meng lags three behind but there is one aspect in which she is the equal and even one ahead.
She is one of only three players, to have won four ITTF World Tour women’s singles titles in the calendar year; the others are her colleagues, Guo Yue and Zhang Yining.
Guo Yue achieved the feat in 2007 (China, Croatia, Kuwait, Slovenia); Zhang Yining no less than three times! She completed the quartet of titles in 2003 (China, Denmark, Germany, Sweden), 2004 (China, Japan, Korea Republic, Singapore) and 2008 (China, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar).
Notably, since the ITTF World Tour started in 1996 in England has any player won more than four women’s singles title in year.
However, Chen Meng can claim five, one ahead of her illustrious preecessors. Neither Guo Yue nor Zhang Yining, in the years when they won four titles, succeeded at the end of term Grand Finals; in that respect, Chen Meng stands alone.
The question posed, will one day she stand alone on the very top step of the world’s greatest events? Will the opportunity arise, if so will it be grasped?