Wednesday 31 October 2012

Feedback From NZ's Top Ranked

The NZ National Rankings have been released for 2012 after a year of hard work from our best. We decided to ask some familiar faces a few questions about their top spots on the rankings and also check in with some new faces to the NZ Rankings and get to know a little more about them!

Phillip Xiao - Ranked NZ Number 1 - Mens

Phillip Xiao Ranked Number 1 Mens
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch 

You are ranked Number 1 in NZ again, congratulations. Do you think your efforts over the year deserve the top spot?

Thanks! I’m extremely proud to be NZ number 1 again. I’ve been ranked number one for three years now from 2010 up until now. It’s great knowing all the hard work and training has paid off, this includes paying my own way to go China and Korea during the winter every year since I was 13 and balancing training with study or work full time during the year. I’m proud to have achieved the results domestically and internationally this year which would warrant me being the number 1 New Zealand player. Some of the highlights are qualifying for the Olympic Games and also winning three Under 21 titles at the Oceania Championships in Fiji earlier this year.

In New Zealand we are fortunate to have strong international players such as Johan Axelqvist and Liu Teng Teng. Although I am not of their level yet it is great to be able to learn as much and try chase them.

This year was a breakthrough year for you against some top Australian players. What is it that has changed for you to be able to beat the likes of Justin Han and David Powell?
I spent 3 months training in China and Korea before the Olympic qualifiers thanks to my coaches Jiang Weizhong and Mr Han. This definitely helped my game a lot. I was consistently training with players in the top 250 in the world and being exposed that sort of level 7 hours a day speeds up improvement exponentially. Some of the players in China will be less well known but in Korea I was lucky enough to train once or twice with rising Korea star Jung Young Sik who is ranked about 60 in the world at the moment. A good friend whom I’ve known since very young and he was able to share some of his experiences and thoughts albeit pretty broken English!

I learnt a lot about how to approach the game. In the past I was guilty of just trying to hit the ball as hard as possible and get as many balls on the table. I tried to focus more on constructing points and to be able to change the rhythm of the game when necessary. These were the key things and I felt like it helped a lot especially in the crucial stages of the game.

I respect both Justin and Dave immensely and it was great being able to beat both those players. Beating both those players definitely pushed me up into the group of top players in Oceania whereas in the past I was more just a fringe top player.

How did it feel to qualify for the Olympic Games and having not met the NZOC criteria, has your hunger to represent NZ at the Olympics increased? If so what will you do to prepare for Rio?

It was extremely disappointing after doing so well at the Oceania Olympic qualifiers earlier this year. The NZOC has set the bar pretty high for their criteria and it’s always going to be tough. At this stage no one outside of Asia or Europe can meet the top 16 in the world criteria.

However, in saying that I am always motivated to train hard and try get as close as possible to meet their criteria. Anything could happen and may let athletes go if they met the international qualification standards. That would be a dream come true!

For me, one of the ultimate goals would be to represent New Zealand at the Olympics and wearing the silver fern proudly. From what I have heard, the Olympic Games is an unreal experience, the atmosphere, the village, the games, everything, it is only a select few that ever get to experience it. Many of my close friends who I have grown up with through the junior ranks were at the games and it would have been amazing to be amongst it. I’m still only 21 and so anything could happen!

How difficult has it been to start full time employment and balance your schedule with table tennis training to a high standard?
It’s been extremely challenging balancing work and full time employment this year. I see it as a new chapter in my life and a really tough challenge.

Surprisingly, I feel like training this year has gone really well and the level of training in New Zealand that I get has been a lot better. The first reason for this would be that I know time is pretty restricted and so every time I do come into training, I would make sure that I get the most out of it and train as hard as possible. During the summer months, I would fit in training sessions before work starting at 6:00 a.m then go into work and train from 7pm till 9:30 pm. There were a few times where I was questioning why I was doing this and putting myself through this but I was adamant that it would all work out in the end.

The second reason is that this year, New Zealand has been extremely lucky to have Johan Axelqvist, a former Swedish national team player. Although he has stopped playing professionally for 18 months, he still plays occasionally once or twice a week. This has benefited my game a lot and he is always happy to share his expertise and knowledge! It’s great to be able to have someone to chase and aspire to. He’s a great asset to all players in New Zealand and having more competition in New Zealand is always great for the game. I think we all a great match at the Auckland Open earlier this year. He's also been a great friend off the table and I'm really thankful for his help this year.

This year you won both the Manawatu and Wellington Opens. This represents a new philosophy of sorts for you, as it was the first time you had played both tournaments. What enticed you to play them and what will it mean for you in the future?
There were a few reasons to play those tournaments. Firstly, I think it is really important to support the local tournaments. It was great to be able to travel and show the locals some quality matches. I think the final at the Wellington Open against good friend John Cordue was a good example showcasing the top local players and the crowd really enjoyed watching that match.

Another reason was to try and give back to the local community. There aren’t many role models in Table Tennis New Zealand and so the top guys really need to step up and put their name forward After the Manawatu Open, I ran a training camp for the local juniors and tried to share some of my expertise and thoughts on the game. The juniors really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. Coaching is something I really enjoy as I love working with people and being able to see the improvement over a period of time is really satisfying. It would be great to be able to develop in the future.

In saying that, what are your main goals for 2013?

There are quite a few opportunities in 2013 internationally which will contribute to the overall goal of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The biggest tournaments will be the Commonwealth Championships in India, World Championships in France, Oceania Cup and the Australian Open. I hope to be able to go and get the results I want to meet the criteria of the Commonwealth Games.

Furthermore, if TTNZ has the funds I would love to be able participate more on the ITTF World Tour, this includes the GAC Tour and the Euro – Africa Circuits for 2013.

I’m looking forward to the 2013 season!

Sarah Her-Lee - Ranked NZ Number 1 - Womens

Sarah Her-Lee at Number 1 on Women's List
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch

First of all congratulations on your first ever Number 1 NZ Ranking. What do you think has been the biggest contributing factor to your position here?

Wow, it is quite unbelievable to me! there are a few players whom I think deserve the top spot too. I think this year I have played well and I have had a lot of help from coaches and other players training together. My experiences training and competing overseas have also helped me to improve. But I think one of the biggest contributing factor to having good tournaments this year was that I learnt how to play even when my form was not at the best.

You have played for a season in Germany, is that something you are considering doing again in the future?

It was a very nice experience both for table tennis and life experience, it is something I will never forget! (Thanks to my lovely club - Borussia Munster)! I would love to return in the future but right now I am focusing more on my law career so I will be staying in NZ.

Now that you have been ranked number 1, what further goals do you have for high performance table tennis?

I would like to set other goals other than just representing New Zealand and winning medals. I would like to set goals on making table tennis better, at social levels as well as at the high performance level. Also I would like to be able to contribute to bringing more girls into the sport competitively. Overall to use the experiences that I have to help make table tennis better.

You have created a very feminine image for yourself in table tennis. Do you have plans to continue promoting fashion and women's table tennis? What kinds of ideas do you have?

Yes fashion is fun and everyone has their own style, they should be able to express themselves even when playing table tennis. I particularly loved Timi's (NZ champion) fashion throughout the NZ Open this year. When I was in Europe I saw a lot of feminine and very stylish female players. I have had some ideas in the past - for example changing our NZ women's teams uniform. Currently we still wear the men's uniform when we represent NZ and during National Champs the women's teams for associations wears the men's uniform as well. But it is difficult because currently the table tennis brands have mostly male clothing. So the ideas needs to be worked on with others involved and It would be nice to create new ideas with other players and officials too.

You will soon start working full time. How do you think this will impact on your table tennis and what will you do to solider through it?

Working full time can be physically and mentally demanding, just like table tennis. It would take the body some time to get used to it. I think it is important to eat well and get plenty of sleep. It is hard to train when you are tired, and the training becomes ineffective. I remember reading an article William Henzell wrote about how he maximise his training time when he was working full time - so I will go back and read it again!

Ruofei Rao - Ranked NZ Number 2 - Womens

Ruofei Rao Ranked Number 2 Womens
Image Courtesy of Murray Finch
What is it about table tennis that makes you choose it over other sports and activities?

Well, table tennis is better than any other sport in many ways. I've tried tennis, swimming and badminton. Tennis is outdoors so the sun just kills you and also, the court and racquet is so much bigger which I don't like. And if it was raining, you wouldn't be able to play. Swimming is just plain boring, no offense. All you do is just swim and swim and swim. You don't swim with others like you play against someone in table tennis. I also don't like how it's a sport in the water because it's cold and it damages your hair. I had no talent in badminton, I could never hit the shuttlecock to the other side because shuttlecocks aren't round and I just found it hard. Another thing is I don't like team sports like netball or soccer or basketball. I don't know why. When I started playing table tennis, I apparently had some natural talent and potential. I liked it alot aswell. From the start, I had always won games and competitions. This boosted my spirit heaps and so I continued. So here I am today.

What other hobbies do you have in your spare time? Do you play any musical instruments?

I have art classes every week where I paint, draw and sketch things like animals and scenery and other things aswell. I play the violin and participate in one of the orchestras at school. Also, digital technology which is animating with programs like Flash Player and using Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator to edit photos and create book covers, cards, draw cartoons, etc.

What ambitions do you have for yourself, in table tennis and school etc.?

I want to achieve many things in table tennis. Representing New Zealand to go overseas and play tournaments and more. Aside from table tennis, I want to attend a university away from NZ. Haven't exactly planned where but I wanna take designing and art as my career because I think I have alot of potential to achieve great things and I like it which makes it even better.

What kind of food do you enjoy eating? What makes it so great?

Well to be honest I don't mind any kind of food as long as it tastes good hahaha. Actually I find that I like sweet food more. Like fruit. Can't survive a day if I don't eat any fruit. And I'm always eating chocolate and lollies. My mum gets a little annoyed sometimes when she sees me eating sweets but I never listen to her so there's not much she can do ahaha.

Where is your favourite travel destination so far? Where is somewhere you would like to visit and why?

I have been to alot of countries around the world. But out of them all, I think I like Japan or France the most. I went to France for World Hopes Team in 2010 and Japan for a School Exchange in 2010. Well. I would really like to visit England or Germany. New Zealand is pretty small and far away from the rest of the world. Sometimes, home just gets a little boring. I really like travelling, leaving home, and seeing what it's like in other places in the world. It's fun and adventurous, and I love shopping too. You can see and experience new things and understand a little bit more about the country's culture.

Victor Pollett Ranked 1st in Under 15s

Where were you born, when did you come to NZ?

Born in Israel, came to NZ when I was 4 in 2001

Did you play table tennis before you came to NZ?
I hadn't played table tennis before I came to NZ, only started playing when I was about 9 at Li Chunli's club

What is your training regime in North Harbour?
At North Harbour, I usually train about 4 days a week, I go to the high performance training and elite trainings.

What do you credit your outstanding results in 2012 to?
As it was my last year of U15 I set myself a goal at the start of the year to do my absolute best at the junior nationals and trained hard before the junior nationals. I think that setting this goal for myself really made me try hard and in the end helped me win.

What are you hoping for in 2013?
In 2013 I hope to improve my game and to try claim North Harbour the U18 Boys Junior Nationals Teams Title.


  1. Great questions and some very impressive answers. I particularly liked how Philip paid tribute to the other top players who have helped him and with his overall humble nature. I was also very pleased to note Sarah's interest in broadening the appeal of table tennis through fashion and marketing. Perhaps it will lead to a narrowing of the gender gap in our sport, something a lot of people would be pleased to see.

  2. Nice stories, time to get a womens fashion designer in haha


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