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When my dad was notified that ITTF would be holding bubble events and that my sister was one of the participants, we were very happy. Good news in times when fear and uncertainty reign – this made us smile. That night before going to sleep, I was able to feel something that I hadn’t felt for months – hope.
Preparations began to go to the bubble where I would go as a sparring partner of my sister Adriana. When we began to see all the requirements, we worried a little because any detail could alter everything. The day before we went to China, we still didn’t have our visas. We decided to try our luck. We took the first flight to Miami with our driver’s licenses, hoping that by the time we arrived, the visas would be ready and we could meet with the person in charge of them at the airport. Luckily for us, this risky plan worked out and with our visas finally in hand, we embarked on the rest of our trip to China.
When we first arrived in Shanghai, we were quarantined for 3 days. After 2 negative tests (one at the airport and one at the hotel), we took a 13-hour bus ride to Weihai. There, we stayed for 3 more days without leaving the room. Upon completing those 3 days, we were strictly only allowed out to train with our respective group (Adriana, Mo Zhang, Lily Zhang, and I formed group #1.)
After completing the 14 day quarantine in China and with 8 negative COVID tests, we were transferred to the tournament hotel, officially entering the bubble. At this point, we had more freedom. We no longer ate in our rooms, but in a dining room with the other players, coaches and sparring partners.
No one was talking about quarantine or COVID testing anymore. You could only feel the excitement of seeing all the other athletes and the desire to compete again. Minutes before the World Cup started, I became nervous. After 8 months out of the competitive environment, being in a tournament again creates emotions that you did not imagine feeling, even if you are not competing.
Once the tournament started – unlike my past self – I did not want to miss a single game. After the pandemic, I began to value everything and not take anything for granted, not even watching games. I knew how lucky I was to be there and I wanted to make the most of it. At the end of each training session, I returned to the hall to watch games and above all, to learn something about each player. It was surprising to see such a perfectly prepared hall and not have spectators. It was strange to experience silence after an incredible point or a great victory.
The next tournament was held in Zhengzhou. It was incredible to enter the hall on the first day of competition and see the full stands. It was a drastic change that everyone welcomed. The joy of the fans seeing their favorite players arrive and the excitement with which they celebrated each point, even when China was not playing, was something I had never seen before. I suppose that like myself, they also felt grateful to be able to witness a competition again and enjoy all the games regardless of the origin of the players. What made that competition special was the energy there. While we came from different backgrounds, a love for table tennis united us all and that love was felt everywhere.
Next, was the WTT event held in Macau. It was the tournament I felt the most excited about because of the format and the setting, which was so different from what we are used to. I had already seen exact videos of what the stage would be like, but it was a totally different experience seeing it in person. As was in Zhengzhou, there was only one table and there was also audience in the stands. It was table tennis with a completely new and exciting system – from the players choosing their opponents, to the light show in the middle of each set.
What the 3 tournaments in China had in common was the great planning done by the ITTF and WTT. It was really impossible to have done better. With Macau marking the end of the bubble, I reflected on my past few weeks in China and became even more motivated to continue training, so that one day I can also play these tournaments with my sister. I am grateful to life and to God for having had this great experience. Now, the only thing left to do is prepare. There are some new and not so new goals to meet. I cannot wait!
As the new year kicks off, so too does the excitement of the Liebherr Cup Final which approaches this weekend. Saturday will see the Final