(by Steve Hopkins, photo ITTF World)
Is the future of penhold in Germany and France? For those who have been watching the World Team Championships, you were treated to two penhold-versus-penhold matchups (both France versus Germany matches between France’s Felix Lebrun and Germany’s Dang Qiu). There was a time when penhold players were found across a wide range of teams, but in recent years there are fewer and few Asian player excelling with the grip.
Without Xu Xin, China has not fielded a penholder this year. Japan has not had penholders at the top of their rankings in recent years. Taipei and Korea did not bring penholders, and the former practice of Chinese retirees traveling to other countries to compete has been reduced to a trickle.
If you look at the eight squads that made the quarterfinals, only two teams included a penhold player – and those two teams were Germany and France. To say that differently, of the 40 players competing in the Men’s Quarterfinals, 38 of those play shakehands. In France, a 16 year old Felix Lebrun has shot up to World No. 86 as a penholder. In Germany, Dang Qiu has become the top ranked player in his country and at the age of 25 he has served as Captain of the German team at the Worlds. Both play penhold with a reverse penhold backhand – and both have devastating attacking strikes on both sides.
When these two teams met in the group stage, Dang Qiu beat Felix Lebrun 3-1 as Germany defeated France 3-1. A few days later, these same two teams (and these same two players) faced each other in the Quarterfinals. In the second matchup, Felix topped Dang Qiu 3-1. Germany again managed to win the match – but a narrow 3-2 victory. Clearly both squads will be relying upon their young stars for years to come – so perhaps fans will be able to watch penhold matchups for another decade both in major international events and in European events.
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