Hirano Miu of Japan reacts during the women's singles semifinal against Zhu Yuling of China, at the 23rd ITTF Asian Table Tennis championships in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, April 15, 2017.[Photo: Xinhua]
China's boss of table tennis Liu Guoliang said Sunday that it's not a bad thing to suffer a big blow from arch-rival Japan more than three years ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The head coach of the sport's all-time leading powerhouses was shocked at his first sight of Japanese teenager Miu Hirano who beat three top-ranked Chinese to claim a sensational victory of the women's singles at the Asian Table Tennis Championships.
"She's much better than I had imagined," said Liu, a Grand Slam winner himself in his career as a player, on the conclusion of the continental tournament.
"When she came out the winner of last year's World Cup, I thought maybe she took advantage of the absence of the Chinese women paddlers.
"However, I changed my mind when I saw her play here, firstly in the women's team event. She's strong enough technically and mentally, and capable of beating any one in the world," added Liu.
Hirano, who just turned 17 years old on Friday, stunned China's world No. 1 Ding Ning 3-2 in the quarterfinals before accounting for second-ranked Zhu Yuling 3-0 and finally seeing off world No. 5 Chen Meng, also 3-0, to smash the Chinese dominance of the tournament.
"She's so young and has so many possibilities in the future," said Liu. "That makes her success more intimidating to our women's team."
Moreover, the harsh challenge has been posed to China's male paddlers as well as their women's counterparts.
Top seed Ma Long was shocked out by the Chinese-born South Korean Jeong Sang Eun at the round of 32, and leading pen-holder Xu Xin lost to Japanese Koki Niwa in the quarterfinals.
In Liu's opinion, the difficulties that China faced in these Asian championships reflected the changes of table tennis world map in recent years.
"It's not just recently that Japan wants to beat China," he said. "By the end of the day, their efforts finally worked out."
The head coach, however, refused to stand all by the Japan's side.
"We do need to learn from the other associations, including the Japanese, who do an excellent job on youth training," Liu said. "But one failure should not lead to the whole denial to our own team."
"It's just an alarm from the opponents that warning us to be more aggressive and creative.
"I think it's a good thing to have competitors who can pose real challenges, which makes our sport more competitive and more healthy," he added.