Very much the dominant force in world table tennis with superstar names in every direction, but over the course of the next decade the time will come for China to concentrate its efforts on finding the next challenger amongst its younger generation.
Perhaps the leading contender at this moment in time is Wang Chuqin, a young man carrying great potential but still the unfinished article.
In a day and age where national associations across the globe are looking towards teenage prospects more and more, Chuqin appears to be China’s answer to the likes of Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto and Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju, two players who are beginning to ask questions of the world leaders.
Chuqin, while still a teenager, at 19, is older than both Harimoto, 16, and Yun-Ju, 18 and so it’s only natural that those in charge of the Chinese national set up will be keen to see their player taking the challenge to and surpass the Japanese and Chinese Taipei competitors.
Stable, assured, safe, these are all words which perhaps best summarise Chuqin’s philosophy in action. He is at his best when staying on the front foot close to the table, often dictating play with his exceptional ability to open up different angles from the backhand. For someone so young, Chuqin has clearly already learnt a thing or two in his relatively short, yet successful career.
It was on South American soil where Wang first started to make noise on the international scene with two impressive outings on the 2014 edition of the World Tour: claiming the Under 21 men’s singles runner up spot in Argentina, a then 14-year-old Chuqin also produced a noteworthy performance in Brazil with semi-final finishes at both Under 21 and senior level.
Fast forward to 2017 and Chuqin made real traction. Backing up his Under-18 wins at the China Junior and Cadet Open with further title successes at the highly prestigious Asian Junior and the World Junior Championships.
Clearly ready for the next step Chuqin was rewarded with more opportunities to compete at the highest level and didn’t disappoint, helping China to gold medal finishes at the 2018 World Team Championships and 2018 Asian Games. Toward the latter stages of the year Chuqin celebrated further success at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, beating Harimoto to men’s singles gold and partnering Sun Yingsha to the mixed team title.
Continuing to show steady progress, Chuqin was amongst the headlines on a few occasions in 2019: runner up at the World Tour event in Budapest, he went on to replicate that result in Geelong before securing his first men’s singles trophy in Stockholm. Another special moment came at the 2019 World Championships as he partnered Ma Long to become men’s doubles champions of the world – a day that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
Still in the early stages of his journey and having already achieved so much, however, Chuqin can’t afford the same luxury of patience that many players from other countries can fall back on. Put simply, the bar has been set at a monstrously high level – Ma Long is World and Olympic champion, Fan Zhendong is Men’s World Cup and World Tour Grand Finals champion while Xu Xin spent five months at the summit of the world rankings in 2019.
Expectations are sky high and there’s every chance Chuqin could go on to fulfill his potential but there are still some issues to iron out including it would seem his discipline which has come into question recently.
Chuqin is currently serving a three month suspension following an incident at the World Tour event in Linz, Austria last November which saw the Chinese teenager throw his racquet at the table in frustration, contravening the ethics of sport in the process.
There’s no doubt that Chuqin has an exciting future ahead but it won’t be long before pressure begins to mount as China not only expects strong players but world beaters.
Practically untouchable since the turn of the millennium, China will want to see its dominance extended throughout and beyond the next decade. Incredible young talents in the form of Harimoto and Yun-Ju are looking to knock China of its perch. The task for Chuqin is to prevent that from happening, but can he?
by Simon Daish for ITTF