10 years on, Japan’s Fukuhara faces same situation

Paris, May 13 (IANS) Ten years after she shocked the table tennis world by reaching the last eight at the 2003 World Championships here at the age of 14, Japan’s Ai Fukuhara finds that she will face the same situation again at the Bercy Arena.

In 2003, the “China prodigy” lost to top-seeded Zhang Yining of China in her World Championships debut. Under the draw held Saturday, she will still have to beat top seeded Ding Ning, also from China, if she makes the semi-finals, reports Xinhua.

Ding, 22, is the defending champion and also the London Olympics silver medallist. She was also a member of China’s winning team at the London Olympics.

“The Bercy Arena is still as beautiful as 10 years ago. But it looks a little smaller, maybe it’s because I have grown up,” Ai said.

The quarter-final place remains her best singles achievement at World Championships, even though she led Japan to the third place in the 2004 team worlds.

“I don’t know wether I am lucky or unlucky. I have been always drawn to play the top seed. It happened at the Beijing and London Olympic Games. First of all, I must go as far as in London last year,” she said.

She was stopped by Ding at the Round of 16 in London.

“But every coin has two sides. Many players have never got a chance to play the World No.1,” she said.

Playing table tennis in China from a very young age, Fukuhara can speak fluent Mandarin Chinese and has greater popularity in China than most other table tennis players from outside of the country. But she has never beaten Ding in major world competitions.

“I remember that I beat her once when she was a little girl in Beijing,” she joked.

Fukuhara, who will play singles, doubles and mixed doubles this time, said that she is physically strong enough to cope with the busy fixtures.

“I am older than 10 years ago, but I am not too old. This is the World Championships. I want to enjoy every match and try my best,” she added.

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