Table Tennis: Gatien's popular victory

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The Independent Online
JEAN-PHILIPPE GATIEN became the first French men's singles world champion yesterday when he defeated the Belgian Jean-Michel Saive 21-19, 17-21,

21-14, 17-21, 21-18 in the final. It was the first major title for Gatien, the 23-year-old English Open champion who was the runner-up to Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner at last year's Olympics in Barcelona.

Though the outcome was ecstatically received by the 6,000 crowd, the match as a spectacle was moderate. The third and fifth-ball attacks of two fierce forehand loopers tended to dominate and shorten the rallies - another of the reasons why the glue ban, announced by the International Table Tennis Federation as beginning on 1 June 1994, may be good for the game.

Double-sided tape on bats may prevent the sort of super- fast rallies served up - though one had to admire the mental strength of Gatien (ranked No 2 in the world) and the ability of Saive (No 7) to launch forehand winners from seemingly impossible positions on the backhand side. It was this which had accounted for the top-seeded Waldner in Saturday's semi-final and China's Ma Wenge on Friday.

It was the first time in 40 years there had been no Asian men's singles semi-finalists. It was the first time in 16 years there were no Chinese singles' winners. Saturday's women's singles triumph for Hyun Jung-hwa made her the first singles' winner from South Korea and completed her set of titles (she won the mixed doubles in 1989 and the women's doubles in 1987).

Meanwhile, the English were left pondering glue. The ban comes after the European championships in April, which means players must be allowed to use ITTF-listed glues for the Birmingham event. But England already has a total ban on all glues. 'It creates a dilemma not easy to resolve,' Alan Ransome, the English Table Tennis Association chairman, said.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 27