Wang Chen Speech by Tim Boggan

We learn from a Chicago Tribune reporter that, “when Wang Chen was 7 years old, talent spotters came to her ‘regular’ Beijing school and tested the children. ‘They gave us three ping pong balls,’ Wang said, ‘and told us to throw them in a basket 10 feet away. It wasn’t easy—not so many kids could do it, it tests your feel for the ball. But I was very good at it.’”

            Liking what she was good at, Wang immediately began “a nightly three-hour training regimen. ‘Most kids doing it wanted to quit,’ she said, ‘but I loved it.’”

            At 11, with her father’s encouragement, “she turned professional and moved into an apartment with three other aspiring players her age. ‘They didn’t give us much money.’ Wang said, ‘but we had good food and a good apartment, so we were all able to eat, sleep, and train together.’’

            “By the time she was 13, Wang had joined the Junior National Team and was training eight hours a day. ‘China’s players can earn up to $150,000 a year,’ she said. ‘Table tennis players are very famous. Good players do advertisements. They play every Saturday on TV. People definitely know them.’”

Think they recognize this guy?  That’s Li Zhenshi, World Champion in Teams and Doubles.

            Helped by the famous Chinese player/coach Zhang Xielin, Wang began winning Open International tournaments—in Finland, Croatia, Italy. In 1994, when she was 20, she won the Women’s Global Youth Championship. Soon Wang had so advanced that in 1997, with more International Open wins to her credit, she was a member of the winning Chinese Team at the World’s. Here’s the Coach of that Team, Lu Yuansheng. And Wang’s famous teammate and player she most admires, World Singles and Doubles Champion Deng Yaping. Being a member of that Team, Wang said, was her greatest career achievement.

Her greatest disappointment? Not being picked for the 1996 Olympics, and in a year or two leaving the Chinese Team to retire. ‘When they make the decision as to who they’re going to pick for a major tournament,’ she said, ‘they don’t tell you anything. You find it out in the newspaper or on TV when everyone knows it.’

            In 1999, she moved to the United States, married, and began to think of raising a family. Then she decided to return to table tennis—and, among those who knew her, would be called “Cindy.”

            In writing up the Mar., 2002 Quaker City Open, Larry Hodges tells us Wang’s living in New York City and coaching with the Nigerian star Atanda Musa at owner/sponsor/benefactor Jerry Wartski’s  Manhattan Table Tennis Club. At this Philadelphia tournament, Wang will win the Women’s over Chinese expatriate Lily Yip, for 10 years one of the U.S.’s very best players. But, more impressively, in the quarter’s of the Open Singles  she defeats another Chinese immigrant, David Zhuang, understandably needing the full 9 games to do it since David’s halfway on his way to winning six National Singles Championships. Then she stops Musa in 8 games. Her final opponent is a current two-week visitor at the Manhattan Club, Thomas Keinath from Germany who years later will win two U.S. Opens. After playing some major tournaments in the U.S., he has a 2839 rating. Wang can take only one game, though she’s at deuce in two others.

            At the $5,000 June, 2003 Stiga Open in Newark, DE, Wang loses to Keinath in the semi’s, but, after again having practiced with him at the Manhattan Club and knowing his game, plays him a much stronger match than she did in Philadelphia. Hodges said their match had “a nice contrast in styles—Keinath being a pure two-winged power looper who swings at nearly everything, and Wang an over-the-table hitter/blocker with pips on the backhand, and a nice forehand loop as well.” After prevailing 12-10, 12-10, and 15-13, she’s 3-2 ahead in games before Thomas runs out the 5-3 match, very happy to finish by just eking-out 13-11, 11-9 wins.

            Wang’s chance to win the 2003 U.S. Open demanded she defeat three Japanese opponents. In the quarter’s, she beat Naoko Taniguchi, a chopper, in straight games. (Up 10-0 in the second against, m’god, this is her women’s doubles partner and they’re in the final tomorrow, so that’s why she didn’t blitz her?) In the semi’s, she downed Satoko Kishida, a lefty penhold looper good at following up her serves. With Wang leading in games, 3-2, Hodges tells us that Kishida had three straight ads, three chances to move the match into a decisive seventh game, but couldn’t get the clincher.  In the final, Wang fell, 4-1, to 29-year-old Aya Umemura, whom she’d lost to in the Brazilian Open just the weekend before. But Wang/Taniguchi had to have gotten some satisfaction with their 3-1 doubles win over Umemura/Kishida.

            Wang’s loss to World #16 Umemura could not have been too disappointing to her, but a month later at the Eastern Open in New Jersey, she dropped the final to Barney Reed after she’d beaten him in the round robin preliminaries—and that, intensified by a disputed point that continued to crawl around inside her head, bothered her.

            At the June 30th-July 4th ITTF’s Pro Tour Killerspin U.S. Open, played at Chicago’s Navy Pier, Wang lost to Belarus’s defensive star Viktoria Pavlovich, one of my favorite players to watch. However, Wang paired with Austria’s Liu Jia to take the Women’s Doubles. They beat pairs from South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, and finally Belarus—yep, Pavlovich again, partnered by another defender Tatyana Kostromina. This 5-game match had some dramatic moments—stuff happens. In the first game, Kostromina, down 19-20, was serving and was faulted, to boos from the spectators, because the umpire said she’d dropped her hand below the table. In the third game as the Belarus pair prepared to serve, two rather large birds flew directly over the table, only about eight or ten feet above the playing surface. And in the fifth game, with Wang/Liu leading 10-4 and needing only one last point to win the match and the title, the Belarus pair drew to 9-10 then lost on an unreturnable net ball. No wonder Wang and Liu pose happily.

            Ready for the 2006 U.S. Open? Wang Chen certainly seems to be—she’s moved to the Women’s final with straight-game wins over Judy Hugh and Whitney Ping. Her last opponent is the 17-year-old Canadian #1, Mo Zhang, World #180, who’s definitely an underdog. But stuff happens—and, after losing in just five games, Wang, distraught, hurries off court.

            O.K., recovery time. Wang’s now a U.S. citizen, so what are the odds of her winning the Dec., 2006 U.S. Closed Women’s Singles in Vegas?  Pretty good, for quickly dispatched in the semi’s was Nan Li, daughter of the world-famous Chinese player/coaches Li Zhenshi and Zhang Li. Wang’s opponent in the final was Jasna (nee Fazlic) then Reed, now Rather. When Wang was up 2-0 and at 6-0 in the third, Jasna, maybe looking like this along the way, exploded, smacked a ball out of the court, and was yellow-carded. Then, on the very next point, she smacked a ball off the edge of her racket right into the umpire’s head! Larry Hodges, doing the coverage, wrote that “No, it couldn’t have been intentional, not off the racket edge. Jasna’s not THAT good, is she? Jasna walked over and apologized.” In game four, down 10-4 match point, Jasna gave up, intentionally missed a wild backhand—which may or may not have got her carded again. More stuff was happening to Jasna—she and Wang Chen lost the Women’s Doubles to Crystal Huang and Tawny Banh, 13-11 in the fifth.

            In May of 2007, Wang distinguished herself at the World’s upsetting both  Hong Kong’s World #6 Tie Yana and South Korea’s world-renowned chopper Park Mi Young. Then in the round of 16, she downed Romanian teen sensation Daniela Dodean in 5 by winning all the close games—13-11, 15-13, and 11-9. It finally took the eventual winner, China’s Guo Yue, to abruptly stop Wang.

            Two months later,  the USA Team of Gao Jun, Wang Chen, and Tawny Banh were in Rio De Janeiro for the Pan Am Games. There they won the Gold Medal in the Teams over Canada, 3-0. And Gao won another Gold by taking the Singles.

            When Wang went to the Dec, 2007 Nationals, her World ranking while playing in the U.S. had improved from #57 to #22. How, with Gao Jun absent, could she not successfully defend her Singles title? And, sure enough, Whitney Ping, Judy Hugh, and  again in the final Jasna Reed were all beaten—with only Jasna, looking a lot better this time than last, able to put any pressure on her by splitting 12-10 games. Wang also won the Women’s Doubles with Judy.

Our USA Women’s Team—Gao Jun, Wang Chen, Crystal Huang, Nan Li, and Jackie Lee—did well at the 2008 Guangzhou World’s. We finished 12th via three good wins. We beat Sweden, 3-2. Then Croatia, 3-2, with Wang defeating both World #22 Tamara Boros, -10, 9, 9, 10, and, in the deciding fifth match, Cornelia Vaida (after being down 2-1). Then we stopped Russia, 3-1 (with Wang making a gutsy comeback from down 2-0 to win three ultra-tense 12-10, 11-9, 13-11 games from World #57 Svetlana Ganina). And finally our last win—over North Korea, 3-2 (with Wang prevailing 11-9 in the fourth in the single match our Coach Doru strategically positioned her to play).

Following this success at the World’s, Wang had the satisfaction of closing her career by returning to her hometown Beijing for the 2008 Olympics she’d so disappointingly missed 12 years earlier. Wang’s teammates, shown here accompanied by Coach Doru and Manager Bob Fox, were U.S. superstars Gao Jun, David Zhuang and Crystal Huang. Crystal would go on that year to win the Nationals. We opened our Group play with an expected loss to Singapore, but then upset the Netherlands, 3-1 (with Wang finishing off World #15 Li Jiao, 11-4, 11-3 in their five-game match). Then we blitzed Nigeria. Then had a good 5-1 win over Romania. But, sorry, no medal, the competition was just too tough. However, Wang Chen further distinguished herself by getting to the quarter’s of the Singles—the best showing of any American on the Team . She advanced past Hungary’s Kriztina Toth, 4-1, then battled by South Korea’s Kyung Ah Kim, 4-3, before losing to Singapore’s World #6 Li Jia Wei, 4-1.

            As Wang Chen told that Chicago Tribune reporter, playing in the Olympics was a dream come true. She had much to thank Coach Zhang Xielin for. Wang was hoping she’d be allowed to march in the Opening Ceremony with the Chinese flag painted on one cheek and the U.S. flag on the other. “I love New York and I love Beijing,” she’d said. “I’m like hamburger, I’m in the middle.”

            She’s a “hamburger”? I used to say that jokingly, disparagingly about a player. But with this inductee tonight, no disparagement is possible. Ladies and Gentleman, please give Wang Chen the warm welcome she deserves.