USA were having the time of their lives as they gave cause for celebration at the end of Day 3 of the 2017 ITTF Leibherr World Table Tennis Championships. Kanak Jha had boldly advanced over Romania's Adrian Crisan (read more) and now it was the turn of Lily Zhang.
She would face a tough opposition in a tough environment. World Number 39 Sabine Winter awaited her on Table 1 in front of a growing German home crowd. The pressure was palpable. Zhang admits that she was 'a little shaky going in, but I definitely felt like I had a chance', of course at the 2016 Women's World Cup on her own home soil Zhang had been defeated 4-1. This was her chance to reverse that scenario.
The nerves certainly showed as Lily ended up facing a 2-0 deficit, much to the delight of the German fans. With the help of coach Jorg Bitzigeio she changed tact, opting to let go of the short game and push out long, forcing the rally and bringing her opponent out into the open. The tactic proved effective as Zhang took game 3 11-7. She then faced a tight contest as the next game went to deuce but Lily Zhang was showing impressive skill in the rallies and she clutched a 12-10 victory to level the match 2-2.
Just half an hour earlier she had paired with Wu Yue to beat a Czech pairing, and admitted that 'the doubles win definitely gave me a lot of momentum going into the singles match and some extra motivation'.
Winter mustered all her skill and fought back in to stop that momentum and reach towards victory. She held a 3-2 lead over the US player. Lily Zhang, as she has so often shown before, was by no means out of the fight. She upped her game again. Showing superb control in the backhand to backhand exchanges and outstanding forehand counters close-table, she pushed her opponent back off the table and then worked hard to close out the lobbing showdowns.
Zhang evened at 3-3 and then came soaring home in the 7th game to win 11-6. A fantastic effort from Lily as her teammates cheered on from the stands and USATT CEO Gordon Kaye was on his feet. A superb day for USA Table Tennis.
Lily Zhang moves into the round of 32 where she will face Li Jie of the Netherlands.
'She's a very high level player and one of the world's best female defenders. I'm going to go in with an open mind and fight to the end.' Lily Zhang.
We certainly wish you the very best of luck Lily and congratulations!
2017 WTTC RESULTS PAGE