Interview with Coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun
By Larry Hodges
NOTE - Lily Zhang recently made history, reaching the semifinals of the Women's World Cup, the first USA player to do so at any World Cup. Coaching her in her matches was Jeffrey Zeng Xun.
Tell us about your playing career and how you got started in table tennis. (Note - Jeffrey has been rated as high as 2647 - well after he'd stopped training as a player - and was Boys' Singles and Doubles Champion and Men's Singles Semifinalist for the Sichuan Province of China, and made it to the quarterfinals of Junior Singles at the Chinese Championships.)
My uncle, Chen Longcan, was China's first table tennis Olympic champion. Under the influence of my uncle, I started playing table tennis at the age of six and a half. At age 13, I joined the Sichuan Provincial Table Tennis Team and spent ten years there. After that, I went to Canada to compete as a professional table tennis player and then came to the United States.
How would you describe your playing style?
A right-handed shakehand-grip player, my playing style is based on consistency with steady blocking and looping. I don't try to win on the first three hits. I control the rhythm of the game and look for opportunities to score during the rally. My biggest strength is that I play defense very well.
Tell us about your coaching career and why you came to the U.S. to coach.
I coached at Kaohsiung Fucheng High School and Taoyuan Shoushan High School, both in Taiwan. I also helped to train the Japanese Miki House club, the United Arab Emirates national team, and the Vancouver Table Tennis Club in Canada. Now I'm based at the Maryland Table Tennis Training Center.
After I retired as a professional table tennis player in China, I went to Taiwan, UAE, Japan, and Canada. All these competitions and coaching experiences have taught me a lot as an athlete and a coach. They have enabled me to successfully transform into the role of a coach. Then, I got an opportunity to coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in the United States. I hope to help table tennis develop and popularize in the United States.
How is table tennis different in China than in the U.S.?
Table tennis is China's national sport. Whether professional or amateur, there is a huge population playing table tennis in China. However, in the US we have a lot of people that play baseball, football, basketball, and many other sports. Table tennis is a much smaller market in the U.S., it is not as popular, far less people play table tennis. Many children who choose to play table tennis are under the influence of their family's background.
Who are some of the players you have worked with regularly in the U.S.?
I have worked with many American players, including Han Xiao, Peter Li, Liu Naihui. Liu Naihui was 2012 US Open Women's Singles Champion. I also worked with Crystal Wang, Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Tiffany Ke, Stanley Hsu, and Emily Quan. Emily won bronze at the 2018 US Open Mini-Cadet girls and was a Hopes Girls Finalist. She also was the champion in Mini-Cadet Girls and Hopes Girls at the 2019 2nd Youth National Ranking Tournament.
6.在美国期间，指导过Han xiao Peter li liu naihui（2012美国公开赛女单冠军） crystal wang Nathan Hsu Derek Nie Tiffany ke Stanley Hsu Emily quan（2018美国公开赛 13岁第三.12第二.2019美国青年队选拔赛13第一，12岁第一）
What did Lily have to do (tactically) to beat world #16 Sofia Polcanova of Austria?
When I thought of the strategy for Lily to use against Sofia Polcanova of Austria, I looked for the opponent's different weaknesses. Polcanova is tall and her moves are relatively slow. I advised Lily to use small placement changes instead of wider-angle changes and always send the ball close to the body. When the opponent handled it awkwardly, Lily would then have a chance. The opponent's first few hits are not very effective, so there is no need to be too aggressive in receiving the serve or returns, just a little speed and getting the ball on the table is good enough.
What did Lily have to do (tactically) to beat world #9 Miu Hirano of Japan? (Note - Miu won the Women's World Cup in 2016 in Philadelphia, the Asian Women's Singles Championships in 2017, made the semifinals of Women's Singles at the 2017 Worlds, and was #6 in the world last year, #5 in 2017.)
The main idea when playing Hirano Mio is to pay attention to her serve. If you can return the serve well you are in a good position. Footwork is very important too, you shouldn't rush the point and the quality of the return doesn't need to be the greatest. If you enter into the rally, try to place the ball with wider angels on each side and longer length. Lily executed this very well.
What would Lily need to do to beat China's Liu Shiwen? (Note - Lily lost to Liu in the semifinals, and Liu went on to win her fifth Women's World Cup, an all-time record.)
To be able to confront Liu Shiwen, first of all, Lily would need to pay attention to Liu's forehand short serve. When serving, try to serve short. When entering into the rally, she must follow Liu Shiwen's rhythm changes, placements, speed, and spin.
What do you like to do outside table tennis?
Outside of table tennis, I like to play football [soccer], sing, watch movies, and hang out with friends.