International table tennis back after 238 days

Top players say they are nervous, rusty but excited for return of sport

AFP November 09, 2020

Top players said they were nervous and rusty, but excited, as international table tennis returned this week in China after an enforced eight-month break because of the coronavirus.

The Women's World Cup began on Sunday behind closed doors in the eastern coastal city of Weihai with 21 players from across the globe taking part over three days. It will be followed by two other International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) events in mainland China.

The prestigious tournaments have taken on extra significance because the pandemic has badly impacted all sport and China appears to be making a rare exception after saying in July that it would not host most international sports for the rest of the year.

The events are also a crucial opportunity for top table tennis players to rebuild their competitive edge and win world-ranking points as they look towards next summer's delayed Tokyo Olympics.

"Even before the match we were joking that someone will miss their serve because everyone was so nervous," said 24-year-old Lily Zhang of the United States, beaten in her opener by Ukraine's Margaryta Pesotska.

"Obviously it doesn't feel great that I lost, (but) on the bright side it's just amazing that I get to be here and to participate in this tournament. I think all of us has been out of match practice this year, (there) haven't been any international competitions since March, so we are a little nervous, a little rusty."

Like many other sports that have returned during the pandemic, players, coaches and officials are being kept in a bio-secure "bubble" to prevent infections. They also had to quarantine after landing in China.

The ITTF, the sport's world governing body, said in September that players would be banned from breathing on balls and there would be no handshakes after matches.

Puerto Rico's world number 19 Adriana Diaz said that she felt "very lucky to be here and just enjoying the moment".

"It is a little weird, having these nervous moments before the match starts, and I will need to learn how to get used to it again," said the 20-year-old.It was difficult not playing table tennis for such a long time. It was sad that Tokyo was postponed. "I just want to play better and looking forward to Tokyo 2021."


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