Sunday, 29/01/2023 08:34

Tuân to step up to table in Asia, Olympic events

Table tennis

Nguyễn Đức Tuân is one of key VIetnamese table tennis at the regional SEA Games. — VNA/VNS Photo 

Thanh Hà

While many people are still enjoying the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday, Nguyễn Đức Tuân has been getting sweaty at the ping-pong table.

The SEA Games champion has no time to rest, as he is going to defend his gold medal in Cambodia in May.

“I had an amazing 2022. I have been in intensive training in preparation for important tasks in 2023. Among them are the 32nd SEA Games and the 19th Asian Games (ASIAD),” said Tuân.

“I will have to maintain myself at my peak so that my result will be the best.”

Best in history

Tuân is now listed as one of the best Vietnamese table tennis players in history, as he claimed a valuable gold medal for the country at the SEA Games last May.

Prior to him, only two players could reach the top of the podium in the men's single event: Vũ Mạnh Cường in 1995 and 2001 and Trần Tuấn Quỳnh in 2003. It has been nearly two decades since a Vietnamese could make it happen again.

Nguyễn Đức Tuân (right) plays against Singaporean Chew Zhe Yu Clarence who stands more than 900 steps higher than him in the world ranking at the SEA Games' semi-final  men's singles match. — VNA/VNS Photo 

May 29 was a memorable day for not only Tuân but all Vietnamese table tennis lovers, after almost 20 years of waiting. 

Tuân collapsed to the floor while almost 3,000 supporters went wild in celebration when his powerful forehand drive flew out of Thai Phakphoom Sanguansin's reach. 

Tuân claimed the most wanted title at the regional biennial sport game, beating Sanguansin 4-1 overall.

It was his first individual gold, but the second in total, after winning the men's double one in 2019 in the Philippines.

"It was the most memorable moment in my career. Although it has been six months since, I am still shaking when thinking about the final, especially the championship point," said Tuân.

Sanguansin was a veteran and experienced athlete. When the 44-year-old began playing table tennis professionally, Tuân was just a child. The Thai has been a familiar face of the SEA Games for many editions. Under his belt were five silvers and a number of bronzes. He earned a gold on the men's team event prior to the final against Tuân. 

"Sanguansin was a quality player. He played in the single's final 19 years ago and just won a gold days before. I still don't know how I could beat him. It seemed that my time researching rivals and watching their videos with a view to find their weak points helped me a lot," 26-year-old Tuân said after his victory.

But coach Nguyễn Hải Nam knew. He said: "Tuân came to the Games without pressure. His free mind and good preparation were all parts of his win. During the match, he showed all of his skilled technique and brought into play his strong point, the forehand drive. Then, he won."

Nguyễn Đức Tuân celebrates a point winning in the final of the men's singles match. He beats Thai Phakphoom Sanguansin 4-1. — VNA/VNS Photo 

His win was not luck either. Earlier Tuân, the world No 1,039, defeated Singaporean Chew Zhe Yu Clarence, No 126, 4-1 in the semi-finals. 

"It was a milestone in my career, but it does not change my life much. I keep working hard everyday like I have been doing for the last 16 years," said Tuân, a native of Hải Dương Province.

Eyes on Asian titles

Tuân became involved with table tennis when he was nine when he went to a dentist and was introduced to the sport by the owner of the clinic, also a table tennis lover.

A year later, he won his first gold in a national championship for juniors and cadets. In 2008, he secured a title at the ASEAN Student Table Tennis Championship. He was the youngest member of Việt Nam's table tennis team at the 29th SEA Games in 2017 and the ASIAD in 2018.

Tuân also won a gold in the National Sports Games (NSG) in 2018 and two national championship titles in 2020 and 2021.

At the NSG last month, he finished second and bagged a silver, which was a big lesson to him.

"Table tennis is one of the top 10 difficult sports. Its technique is really tough. If you do not have good technique you will not play well. Sometimes, even you have been fluent with a shot, you still fail to deliver it in competition," said Tuân.

"It is a reason why I have to spend up to eight hours per day with the ball and paddle. I don't want to regret any mistakes. The NSG final defeat will be in my mind forever. It was a quadrennial event and I did not have my best form. What regret!"

Tuân has learnt all about 'no pain, no gain' in sport. He is fully aware that anyone who pauses for a second will be left behind in the race to victory. 

"Everyone works hard to improve, so I can't stay still. Practising is the only way to catch people and reach higher levels," said Tuân, who is one of the top 10 athletes of 2022 in Hải Dương.

"I also set my own targets. I have to earn the highest results at the 32nd SEA Games which is only several months away. I want to fix our mistakes and gain our fame in the men's team event."

Last May, Tuân and his teammate beat powerhouse Thailand to top the group round and had a chance to defend their title. But the hosts unexpectedly lost to Malaysia in the semi-finals, and could only take bronze.

This time he plans to be more focused than ever before.

"My job now is to improve both fitness and technique for the Games in 2023. Furthermore, I hope to have intensive training courses and competitions abroad where I can gain experience and sharpen my skills. I want to be an Asian-level player and have at least one go at competing in the Olympics," Tuân said. VNS

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