By Sportswriter Zhang Han
WUHAN, Central China, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- With less than 300 days away from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China's table tennis upstart Guo Yue has toed the line for the grand sports event on home soil.
The 19-year-old, who made the breakthrough last May by beating off world No. 1 Zhang Yining and teammate Li Xiaoxia for the women's singles title in the Zagreb world championships, showed more as a real star than a teenage sensation here at the 6th Chinese City Games featuring all leading under-20 paddlers of China.
Coaches, teammates and even rivals praised the world second-ranked golden girl with one voice, although Guo missed both the more valued triumphs of the women's team and singles events and only settled for titles of the mixed and women's doubles.
"Guo Yue is getting more and more experienced," Han Huan, the women's national team coach, said shortly after the world No. 2 paired with Shenyang teammate Hou Xiaoxu to win the women's doubles gold on Saturday.
The success came two days after Guo was beaten 4-1 in the singles semifinals by much lower-ranked Ding Ning from Chengdu, who eventually won the title on Friday, and later lost 3-1 to another national paddler Cao Zhen to finish only the fourth without a touch of the medals.
With Saturday's victory, however, Guo has restored her glory as the most promising one to lead world's table tennis into the new generation.
In the all-Shenyang final of women's doubles, Guo/Hou romped to a straight-set win over Wen Jia and Yang Yang.
Instead of being in a hurry to win, Guo took a steady approach against the opponent duo.
"I was a little bit nervous at first but it didn't hinder me from doing well throughout the match," said Guo. "I think I've been much more mature now both tactically and mentally."
Coach Han Hua echoed her saying: "Guo dominated the whole match with excellent performance and she is now capable of taking the lead before younger players."
"When in trouble, the 19-year-old girl is willing to exchange ideas with her partners," Han added.
Earlier in the mixed doubles event, Guo led a full-set hard fight along with younger teammate Liu Jikang to beat the eastern Jinan pair of world No. 4 Li Xiaoxia and Chen Hao 4-3 in an evenly matched final on Wednesday.
"I wanna say thanks to my dear partner and elder sister Guo Yue," said Liu Jikang after stepping on the top podium with Guo. "She's taught me a lot and always encourages me during our games, that beefed up my confidence."
Even her rival raised thumbs for her. "Guo is definitely the better one between the two of us. I was just lucky to win over her since I've nothing to lose and she'd been obviously too tired," said Ding after smashed Guo Yue's chance to make the women's singles final on Thursday.
Guo started playing table tennis at age of six as her dad brought her to an initiatory class raised in her hometown, and just two years later, she turned to competitive table tennis and was called up into the professional team of northeast China's Liaoning Province.
Five years ago, Guo, who born in Anshan, a few hundred kilometers away from provincial capital Shenyang, became the youngest finalist in the ITTF ProTour Finals in 2003, losing to Zhang Yining, who won two gold medals in the Athens Olympic Games.
Three years ago, the super talent showed her potential of becoming the next Deng Yaping, the arguably all-time great, or Zhang Yining to lead world's table tennis to the new generations by winning the same tournament.
And this year, Guo finally tasted the sweet of winning a world championships gold medal in Zagreb, further boosting her chances to make herself one of the only three women Olympians of China on next year's Olympics table tennis court.
"I'm not sure if I can play at the Beijing Olympic Games but I must make steady progress before that," said a modest Guo. "If I can, I will try to be the best."