Lily Zhang became the first US medalist at the World Table Tennis Championships, since 1959 when Dick Miles won a bronze in the Men’s Singles. Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy, Zhang joined forces with China’s Lin Gaoyuan to compete in the Mixed Doubles event.
“It was a huge honor for me to have this opportunity to pair with Lin for the Mixed Doubles, not only to create a formidable team – but also to celebrate the anniversary of 50 years since Ping Pong Diplomacy,” says Zhang.
Zhang and Lin paired together to reach the semifinals of the Mixed Doubles in Houston, taking home a bronze medal, but narrowly missing out on going even further.
The pair opened with a convincing win over Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia and Shao Jieni in three straight games. The Chinese fans were already thrilled to see the pair in action.
The next match in the round of 32 cemented the international pair as serious contenders in the event. The pressure was on for Zhang and Lin, as they took on the reigning European Champions – Dang Qiu and Nina Mittelham. The Germans sealed out the first game in deuce, before the diplomatic duo swept the next three games.
“It was a real confidence boost to win over the European Champions, after this match it started to sink in that if we played well then there was a possibility of winning a medal,” Lily says, reflecting on the match.
The pair took down Skachkov and Vorobeva in the next round, with Zhang’s quick pace up at the table backed up by the sensational technical ability of Lin Gaoyuan.
The pressure was on as they entered the quarterfinals, just one round away from a guaranteed medal. They faced off with Jia Nan and Emmanuel Lebesson of France, the latter a player renowned for being a skillful doubles player.
Zhang and Lin paired together immaculately, the left and right hand combinations capturing the right angles, while Zhang continued to hold the table and play early in the bounce.
The first two games were tight and split, but the US-China pairing quickly took the high ground in the match and brought it home 3-1.
It was a moment of elation, not just for the players, but for the many US fans who were there to witness a moment in history on US soil.
“I can’t really describe the moment that final point was won, to be guaranteed a medal here on home turf. It was a really special moment, but also I felt some pressure off my shoulders to be guaranteed a place on the podium,” Zhang reflects.
The pair would eventually lose out on a place in the final, with Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto and Hina Hayata surpassing them in the 5th game.
It was a rough start, with the Japanese pair taking both the first 2 games, but Zhang and Lin knuckled down to push the match the full distance.
Unfortunately it was not to be on this occasion.
A moment forever to be remembered, as US and China mixed doubles combo, standing upon the podium and celebrating the unity and friendships built across a small table.
Certainly the fans were delighted with the performance, both US and Chinese alike, perhaps we will be fortunate enough to see these stars play together again one day.
“To stand on that podium was a mixture of a lot of emotions, I think really just pride. I felt like me and Lin were a good team and we both enjoyed the experience. To win a bronze medal at the World Championships is something that any player would dream of, so to have achieved such a milestone in my career is really a great honor for me,” Lily recalls.
We are so proud of Lily for this monumental achievement, to see her making another impact on the history of US Table Tennis with a smile on her face is a privilege for all of us at Team JOOLA. Congratulations, Lily!