The ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, held this year in Dubai, draws to a close, with the event characterised by record-breaking action, spectator enthusiasm and generous fundraising
Dubai on Saturday waved farewell to a week-long festival of table tennis that featured stunning sports action, a successful inaugural award ceremony, and passionate displays of support from fans.
As the curtain fell on the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, held at Dubai’s Al Nasr Club from 9-12 of January, the public appetite for table tennis across the emirate was tangible.
Players from China’s national table tennis team, which is sponsored by Dubai, enjoyed particularly fervent encouragement from the emirate’s Chinese community, with fans chanting “China! China! China!” during games.
The Chinese world number one Liu Shiwen, who won the women’s singles final for a record third time running, told Vision: “We are so happy [to see a lot of fans]. It’s so encouraging when we play in Dubai, or any other foreign country, that we still get to enjoy the home advantage with so many Chinese fans around.”
China’s talented young team played with customary flair, with the men’s singles title going to China’s Xu Xin, who beat teammate Ma Long in a thrilling final.
Commenting on the win, Xu Xin said he hoped his Dubai experience had set a precedent for the season ahead: “Against Ma Long this year was a much tougher contest. I lost to Ma Long in Suzhou. This time I beat him. I hope I can beat him more often in the future.”
The night before the men’s singles finals the very first ITTF Star Awards, organised in cooperation with Dubai Sports Council, saw Chinese Olympic gold medallists Zhang Jike and Li Xiaoxia crowned the Male and Female Table Tennis Stars during a glittering evening at the Raffles Hotel in Dubai.
Zhang Jike also won the Fan’s Table Tennis Star Award, joined by teammate Liu Shiwen, who earned the accolade of 2013 Fan’s Female Table Tennis Star. Speaking in English, Zhang Jike said of the latter award: “This award does not belong to me, it belongs to all the table tennis people across the globe. Let’s all keep on playing this sport we love, and I look forward to more success in the future.
Elsewhere, China's Ma Lin capped a memorable 2013 by becoming the 2013 Para Male Table Tennis Star, beating a stellar field of nominees. And Sweden’s Anna-Carin Ahlquist, unbeaten since she won the London 2012 Paralympics, was crowned the 2013 Para Female Table Tennis Star.
A further highlight of the evening was a charity auction that raised US$246,000 for ITTF’s corporate social responsibility programme, Dream Building. Funds will be used for para table tennis, development and junior table tennis initiatives.
During the auction, Zhang Jike gained further plaudits for purchasing and then donating a tennis table to Dream Building’s development programme in Dubai. The table, commissioned by Ping Pong Dubai, featured a spray-painted graffiti portrait of Jike.
“It was an amazing surprise, for there are so many fans who like me and they made me this table,” Jike told Vision. “More surprisingly, they put my image on it. It’s kind of a dream thing and donating it is a way of saying thank you for all the approval I gained.”