I played in the 2007 Panasonic China Open 10 years back which is one of two foreign Pro Tours that I have played (the other being the 1999 Swedish Open). It took place in Shenzhen which is close to Hong Kong and Guangzhou. I had been training in Shanghai before this with a former Chinese national team member in hot, humid, “how am I going to make it through this session” conditions. I played in the preliminary group and nearly had my second career win (my first career win was defeating Brazil Olympian and Pan Am Gold Medalist Thiago Monteiro at the 1999 Swedish Open). I played World Doubles Champion Chuan Chih-Yuan’s former doubles partner, Wu Chih-Chi of Chinese Taipei and at 1-1 in games, had a 9-5 lead in the 3rd game and a 8-4 lead in the 4th game only to lose both those games. However, it was a best 4 out of 7 so I would have led 3-1 if I held the leads and would have still needed to win one more game. He ended up reaching the final 32 in men’s singles in a very strong field and I think was world-ranked around #80. Wu Chih-Chi defeated 3-time US Open Men’s Singles Champion Aleksandar Karakasevic in the main draw en route to the final 32.
In doubles, if I had won a winnable match against a Canadian pair, I would have gotten the chance to play 3-time World Men’s Singles Champion Wang Liqin in doubles in China! However, our team lost to the Canadians so we lost the chance. I remembering practicing at the 1999 Swedish Open and Wang Liqin started using the same table as me and played cross-court. Many people tell me I have a lot of power on my loops and I ended up feeling like I had baby-loops after Wang Liqin started looping! Some say he has the best forehand loop of all time with a straight arm forehand loop.
There was a player’s party at the 2007 China Open where it was cool that Michael Maze of Denmark was on the same table as me so I got to talk to him and interviewed him and he was friendly. This was 2 years after he had the run to the semifinals of the men’s singles at the 2005 Worlds in China where he became a huge star. He had an epic comeback against China’s Hao Shuai en route to the semis and sensationally won many points lobbing. I also met again Hong Kong’s Tie Yana who has been ranked in the top 5 in women’s world rankings. I had been in the same training group as her and played games with her when I trained in Shanghai in 1999. I also interviewed other players and coaches at this Pro Tour such as European stars Jean-Michel Saive and Bojan Tokic. I approached Wang Liqin for an interview at the player’s party and rightly so, he looked at me like there was something wrong with me. Chinese players are generally not as media-friendly as Western athletes but if a Chinese basketball player went up to Lebron James at the NBA All-Star Game asking for an interview, James would also look like there was something wrong with him. Anyways, I tried! I also met again long-time Swedish national team member Par Gerell who I had lived with in 2000. When he was one of the top juniors in Sweden, I lost to him the first time I played him but then defeated him in practice every time after. He was not top 30-50 in the world like he is now but probably similar to the top US juniors like Kanak Jha are now as PG could beat the Swedish elitserien players at the time.
Crowds were small for the earlier rounds but on the final day, the stands were filled. Wang Hao defeating Wang Liqin in the men’s final and Zhang Yining defeated Guo Yue in the women’s final. Current World #1 Ma Long played this tournament while in his younger days and reached the quarters. Of course, most matches were televised as this was one of the premier events in China.
Here’s a match between China’s Ma Lin and Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov from the 2007 China Open: