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Feature: Table tennis legend Ni ages like fine wine

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CHENGDU, China, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) — At age 59, Ni Xialian is the oldest player at the World Team Table Tennis Championships, which got underway here on Friday. But don’t write her off!

On the first competition day, the 1983 world champion nailed two points and led Luxembourg to an upset win over South Korea in the women’s team group stage.

Ni, currently world No. 41, saw 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.

After taking the decisive set, Ni jumped in jubilation like a kid before rushing to the sideline and giving a kiss to her husband, coach and training partner Tommy Danielsson.

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

For Ni, who was born in Shanghai in 1963 and a former member of the Chinese national team, the Chengdu worlds is about more than a competition. It’s also a homecoming event.

“Even though I don’t represent Team China anymore, I’m still widely supported by the Chinese fans, my countrymen. I appreciate it so much that I played beyond my level today,” said Ni.

Ni joined the Shanghai team in 1978 and was called up to the Chinese national team the following year. She helped the Chinese women’s team to win the team title in the Tokyo worlds in 1983 when table tennis wasn’t yet an Olympic sport, and also claimed the mixed doubles gold with Guo Yuehua and a doubles bronze with Cao Yanhua.

“I was born in China and received systematic training in Shanghai, which nurtured my solid skills and capability of reading games. It’s very important, a lifetime treasure,” Ni said.

Ni retired from the Chinese team in 1986 after winning her fourth world medal the year before, then moved to Germany in 1989 and settled down in Luxembourg two years later.

Her love for table tennis, however, didn’t allow her to hang up the paddle, and she took her first European singles title at 39.

“I play a traditional Chinese fast-attacking game with a penhold grip and apply pimpled rubber on my paddle, which has a little bit advantage, especially when I grow older.

“My style doesn’t require too much strength and running in near-table play and makes it possible that I can play smart,” Ni said.

After 30 years of sojourn, she has represented the European country five times in the Olympic Games since 2000, including Beijing 2008, and made the podium in the World Table Tennis Championships for a record fifth time, pairing with Sarah de Nutte to win a bronze in women’s doubles event in Houston last year.

Earlier this year, Ni was awarded the Luxembourg Government Commendation “Chavenlier” Medal (Oak Crown Medal) in recognition of her outstanding contributions.

“In competitions, I represent Luxembourg, and in Luxembourg, I represent the Chinese. I think that’s very meaningful.”

“I love the game and will never give up,” she added.

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