Jiaqi Zheng Interview

By Rahul Acharya | Sept. 27, 2016, 12 a.m. (ET)

Jiaqi Zheng (CA, USA)

Born in Zaozhuang, China, Jiaqi moved to the U.S. in 2006 with a dream: earn a college degree, compete internationally, and one day represent the U.S. at the Olympics. Last month, after a decade of hard work and dedication, she finally fulfilled her dream when she played at the Rio Games wearing a Team USA jersey. The path to success was not easy. She had to juggle training, competing, and coaching alongside college work. But her unrelenting focus paid off!

A short pips fast attacking penholder, Jiaqi competed in many international tournaments enroute to Rio; she clinched the Women's Singles Championship title at the 2010 Poland Open and finished as a Quarter Finalist at the 2009 China Open and 2012 Brazil and Chile Opens. And yes, she also earned a Master's degree in Business Administration.  

I had the opportunity to ask Jiaqi a few questions. I hope you enjoy getting to know her!

Quick facts about Jiaqi:
Highest USATT rating 2644
Highest world ranking #81
Currently #1 in the U.S. for Women (active players)
2016 U.S. Olympic Team Member
2016 U.S. National Team Member 
2015 U.S. Women's Singles Champion
Former Member of Shandong and Beijing Provincial Teams


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With Jiaqi Zheng at the 2016 U.S. National Championships

1. Tell us about your first Olympic experience. Was it all that you expected it to be? 

It was so much fun! Now I understand why everyone fights so hard to qualify. It was worth all the effort. 

Participating in the Olympics was a dream come true! It is an honor to meet some of the greatest athletes from all over the world. Although the living quarters could have been better, I loved everything about it! 

2. Please share with us some of your favorite memories from Rio. 
Athlete you were most excited to meet: Gymnast Simone Biles and Swimmer Michael Phelps of Team USA
Sport you were most excited to watch: Ball sports and Gymnastics
Favorite Brazilian food: Brazilain Barbecue
Favorite place you visited: The Olympic Village

3. Have you had any rest since you returned, or are you back to training?
Yes, lots of rest. I took some days off to relax. But now, I'm back to regular training and competing in tournaments. 

4. Let's go back to when it all began ... Tell us about how you started with table tennis. 
I started playing ping pong when I was 7 years old. My dad was my first coach, and he taught me all the fundamental skills. I went on to become part of the Shandong Provincial Team by the time I was 11 years old, and eventually, joined the Beijing Provincial Team, two years later. 

5. What equipment do you currently use?
Blade: Butterfly Amultart ZL
Forehand rubber: Butterfly Flarestorm II (short pips)
Backhand rubber: Butterfly Tenergy 05 FX 

6. Have you always been a penholder? Do you think it is an asset, or a liability, or just as good or bad as any other grip?
Yes, I have always been a penholder. In my opinion, penholders had an advantage when the ball was smaller. However, now I think the shakehands grip is advantageous. 

7. How often do you train?
In preparation for the Olympics, I trained 6 days a week for 4 hours every day, in addition to physical training. I am unable to practice as much as I'd like to because of financial reasons. In the long run, if I want to continue to play professionally at a competitive level, I will need a sponsor. 

8. I know that you also coach. As a coach, what quality do you most admire in a student?
I would have to say ball control and passion.

9. It is tough to top the Olympics, but do you have any other goals for 2016? How about long-term?  
In the short-term, I would like to win the U.S. Open Women's Champion title this December. Long-term, I would like to represent the U.S. at the 2020 Olympics and make history! 

10. What has been your most memorable match so far? 
I would say my most memorable match was against Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan at the 2012 Chile Open. Ishikawa, world top 10 and #2 seed in the tournament, had the lead 3-0 in games, but I recovered in Game 4 and went on to win the match 4-3. 

11. Who is your favorite international table tennis player? Why?
Zhang Yining because not only is she unbeatable, but she is also a very kind person.

12. If you could go back in time and get a "do-over" for any one match from any tournament that you have ever played, which one would that be? Why? 
At the recent Olympic Games in Rio, I was playing against world #7 Han Ying of Germany in the team match. I lost the first two games narrowly by a two-point margin. I should have called a timeout in the second game. Had I won the second game, it would have made it more difficult for her, and who knows, I may have had the chance to win. Also during Doubles, we were leading 10-8 in Game 4 and were up 2-1 in games. We thought we were going to win and had a mental lapse. The Germans capitalized on it to tie the game tally and eventually, went on to win the match 3-2. The lesson is that's it is not over, till it is over.
(Writer's note: Jiaqi entered the Games with a world ranking of 113. At 9-9 in Game 1, Han Ying won a critical point giving her the advantage. A lucky net shot won her the game 11-9. Jiaqi played amazing in the second game as well, losing 10-12.)

13. What you like to do when you are not playing table tennis?
I like to play games such as League of Legends. I also like to build model cars. 

14. Anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank my friends and family for their support, without which it would have been impossible for me to realize my dream of playing in the Olympics. 

I would also like to request the table tennis community to please support me in my professional career and to support USA Table Tennis. I can assure you that we will make history!


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Jiaqi, thanks for your time, and congratulations on representing the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games! 

Jiaqi Zheng, 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Member