Teammates-turned-rivals face off in national table tennis final

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By Dan Plouffe

Sabrina Chen and Ann Shiao have spent countless hours training together – at least 3 days every week – and have developed similar playing styles as young athletes in the Geng Table Tennis Academy.

“It’s very helpful,” signals Chen, the 2017 Ontario women’s champion at age 14. “She’s a fantastic training partner.”

Chen and Shiao reached the final of the 21-team girls’ doubles competition at the July 10-12 Canadian Junior Table Tennis Championships in Markham, but not together.
Instead, they were on opposite sides of the table with partners from the Toronto area.

The Geng clubmates might have played together, but initially believed there’d also be under-15 girls’ doubles event, for which Shiao couldn’t have entered since she’s a year older than Chen.

So, Chen paired up with Joyce Xu – an evenly-matched player with whom Chen frequently flip-flops wins and losses in singles play – and Shiao linked up with longtime fellow Ontario competitor Justina Yeung.

The Geng pair enjoyed remarkably similar experiences on opposite sides of the draw, each winning 3 matches apiece to make it to the championship game, including narrow semi-final victories that went to the final set.

“I think it’s a great achievement,” underlines Shiao, an Earl of March Secondary School student. “In Ottawa, there aren’t as many players as in an area like Toronto, so it’s really nice to have a couple Ottawa players on the podium.”

The Geng players knew that little separates winning and losing between teams that make it to a national final, so went into the match with the approach that they’d simply try their best.

“It’s pretty uncommon to be against a teammate you know so well,” notes Shiao. “We were very happy for each other.”

Their provincial team coaches were thrilled to see an all-Ontario final, though it left both teams in the unusual situation of not having a coach. In the end, Chen and Xu got the upper hand in straight sets.

“I was very happy,” says Chen, who attends St. Joseph Catholic High School, site of the GTTA summer camps run by their local coach Lijuan Geng, a former world #1 and 4-time world champion for her native China before moving to Ottawa and representing Canada at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

“After the match, we congratulated each other,” recounts Chen. “We’re still friends even though we’d played against each other.”

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