World Team TT C’ship: 59-year-old Ni shines as Luxembourg upsets South Korea on Day 1

Fifty-nine-year-old paddler Ni Xialian nailed two points and led Luxembourg to win 3-1 over South Korea in the women’s team group stage as the World Team Table Tennis Championships got underway here on Friday.

Ni, currently world No. 41, sprang a surprise to see off 16th-ranked Jeon Jihee 11-4, 8-11, 11-6, 11-9 in a battle of left-handers before she rallied past Lee Zion in full sets, 11-3, 10-12, 11-9, 7-11, 11-4.

South Korea, the better team on paper with all its players ranked in the world’s top 100, got off to a quick start as Lee breezed past Sarah de Nutte 11-9, 11-4, 11-9, but failed to run away with the tie against Ni’s efforts.

Tessy Gonderinger was the other point winner for Luxembourg, beating Kim Hayeong 12-10, 11-9, 2-11, 11-9.

A Shanghai native, Ni moved to Luxembourg in the late 1980s. She has represented the European country five times in the Olympic Games and made the podium in the World Table Tennis Championships, pairing with De Nutte in Houston last year.

“I have nothing to lose, and what I want from a match is just to enjoy the process,” Ni said, revealing her secret to winning after the Group 4 match.

Also on Friday, Olympic silver medallists Japan made a short work of their Slovakian rivals 3-0 in Group 2, while the third seeds, Hong Kong- China, also won their first Group 3 match in straight games over Italy, reports Xinhua.

On the men’s part, world No. 8 Darko Jorgic lived up to his name, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic quarterfinalist won twice to lift Slovenia 3-1 past Puerto Rico in Group 1, where the United States beat Thailand 3-2.

Newly-crowned European champion Qiu Dang had a relatively easy first day, taking a straight-set win over Denis Zholudev and helping Olympic runners-up Germany win 3-0 over Kazakhstan.

In other men’s team group encounters, Hong Kong, China kicked off their campaign with a 3-1 win over Hungary, while Japan eased past Iran 3-0 in Group 3, South Korea and Egypt both claimed 3-0 wins in Group 4.

Having a rest day on the opening day of the competition hosts China will play their first match on Saturday when their men’s team takes on Puerto Rico and their women’s counterparts will later play Canada.

The Championships opened on Thursday evening in the presence of Liu Guoliang, president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, alongside Khalil Al-Mohannadi, president of the Asian Table Tennis Union. China have won the Swaythling (for men) and Corbillon (for women) Cups each 21 times and started as favourites to retain them.

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