Ding Ning – Zhu Yuling: the match for glory

Ding Ning, 2017 World Champion. Photo: ITTF

The first singles champion of the Liebherr 2017 World Table Tennis Championships has already been crowned. Ding Ning, the 26-year-old Chinese player, is the new 2017 World Champion, after defeating her teammate Zhu Yuling with a 4-2 result in the Women’s Singles final played on the 6th day of the competition.

Along with the 2011 and 2015 titles in Rotterdam and Suzhou, it is the third time that Ding Ning has won the most prestigious singles title in the World. Zhu Yuling, a newcomer to this last round stage, will have to wait for future opportunities.

In this article, we will analyze the match between Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling in the Women’s Singles Final of the 2017 WTTC, providing some stats and insights into its development.

The Match

Both Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling have a similar playing style: quick attackers close to the table. Considering this, we expected a thrilling high-speed match, with long rallies and short strokes. And that it was. The result: 4-2 (11-4, 9-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-7) for Ding Ning.

The first set of the match started in the predicted fashion. Zhu Yuling tried to follow the guidelines depicted by Miu Hirano at the Asian Championships final earlier this year, where she was able to beat Ding Ning by looking for her forehand side of the table. It wasn’t very productive though, as Ding Ning’s spinny shots were a struggle for Zhu Yuling and caused her to fail when blocking with the backhand. An easy set for the World number one: 11-4.

Ding Ning’s tomahawk serve. Photo: ITTF

In the second set, the rally length increased and it went in favor of Zhu Yuling, who seemed to be in better shape at those challenging points. It was a roller-coaster set: Ding Ning was 2-6 down when she changed her serve: from forehand pendulum to her famous tomahawk. This way, she managed to reach 9-6 in her favour. However, five long rallies11.6 shots average – in a row served Zhu Yuling a comeback and win with 11-6, establishing 1-1 on the set score.

The third set continued in the same fashion: Zhu Yuling kept hitting the ball quickly enough to prevent her opponent from getting in place properly. She delivered alternating balls to the forehand and backhand sides which Ding Ning could not return in time. The result: 4-11 for Zhu Yuling, who led the match 2 sets to 1.

In the fourth set, Ding Ning changed her strategy to continuously look for her opponent’s backhand with very deep balls. Nonetheless, Zhu Yuling forced her to use her timeout when she was 5-6 down. It did not work though, as Zhu Yuling reached a 7-9 and then 9-10, getting a set ball that would have allowed her to lead 3-1. However, Ding Ning pivoted twice to attack with her forehand, giving her the initiative to come back from that difficult situation to win the set 12-10 and level the match: 2-2.

The fifth set saw too many mistakes from Zhu Yuling. The rally-length average decreased, and only a couple of spinny shots to the center of the table bothered Ding Ning on her way to lead the match 3-2. The result: 11-6.

After recovering from a possible 1-3 down, Ding Ning managed to lead the match and gained more confidence for the sixth set. Her famous tomahawk service was never flicked by Zhu Yuling, which allowed Ding Ning to take the initiative when serving. With 2-0 for the latter, Zhu Yuling went for a timeout to stop the trend. After being 4-1 down, she came back to reach a 5-4 score and the point of the match happened: a long rally – 37 shots – won by Ding Ning. This gave her a second wind to reach a 10-6 score and four championship points. After losing the first one, the second would not be wasted and Ding Ning finished the match with an 11-6 score and a final 4-2.

The comment from Ding Ning after the game shows her mentality during this match that allowed her to overcome a difficult situation and finally achieve the World Champion title for the third time:

“What is different about the third time is that before I felt like I was challenging for the title and trying to defeat others. I am now in the spotlight and others are challenging me.” – Ding Ning

Match highlights video from the official ITTF Youtube channel can be watched here:

Numbers don’t lie

Now let’s see some stats about the match that will help us understand how it developed. First, some general numbers:


Both Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling have a similar amount of winners, but they differ in the mistakes count. Ding Ning had the longest winning streak of the match, when she came back from 2-6 to 9-6 in the second set. Nevertheless, that was not enough for her to win that set.


The total match average of 7.6 hits per point is the highest of all the analyzed matches up to this moment. It evolved from 4.73 in the first set to 9.13 in the 4th and 7.77 in the last set. It is remarkable that the sets where Zhu Yuling won and the one she lost 12-10,  had the highest rally length average of the match, which confirms the theory presented before about that playing in her favour.

However, the longest rallies of the match were almost equally distributed between the two players, as the following chart shows:

Rally length Winner
37 Ding Ning
28 Ding Ning
26 Zhu Yuling
20 Ding Ning
18 Ding Ning
17 Zhu Yuling
17 Ding Ning
17 Zhu Yuling
16 Ding Ning
16 Zhu Yuling
16 Ding Ning
15 Zhu Yuling
15 Ding Ning
15 Zhu Yuling
14 Ding Ning
14 Zhu Yuling

Regarding the kind of shots the players used during the match, we have:


Although it is sometimes difficult to determine whether they made a block, active block or topspin, as the strokes are too quick and short, there is a big difference on that aspect between both players. Ding Ning tried and succeeded when taking the initiative with her forehand topspin. Her footwork was better than Zhu’s, who was forced many times to block with both forehand and backhand.

Overall, the forehand ratio of shots is 46.28% on Ding Ning’s side, while Zhu Yuling has a 54%.

An important aspect of the match was the success that Ding Ning had with her serve. As mentioned before, she started the match performing a pendulum serve and then changed to tomahawk. The difference of points won and lost depending on the serve ia as follows:


The forehand serve had a 60% winning rate, while the tomahawk reached 65%. Nevertheless, the most important thing of this change is that it allowed her to attack the third ball and get the initiative of the point. The following video shows a couple of examples of this:

When it comes to the success ratio of certain kind of shots, we have these stats:


Most of Ding Ning’s mistakes come from her forehand topspin. However, the mistake ratio – 11 % – is not very significant. On the other hand, Ding Ning has a 58% mistake ratio when blocking with her forehand, which usually happened as a result of not reaching the ball in time to attack it with a proper topspin.

Regarding the winners, she got five out of the eight she made with forehand topspins.


Zhu Yuling’s chart has a couple of big red spots: the forehand topspin and the backhand block. Both of them together account for the 67% of her mistakes. As the game got quicker and Ding Ning attacked with her forehand, Zhu Yuling struggled to keep up with the speed, and that is the moment where she made most of her mistakes. Her forehand topspin technique became a bit unorthodox in those situations, which did not help her.

Finally, regarding the game speed, we have performed a speed analysis similar to the one we made in our extended article on that. Let’s first watch the two longest rallies of the match in the selected sample:

The analysis reveals that they hit the ball 65 times in 29.47 seconds, which results in a speed of 2.20 hits / second, 10% faster than the aforementioned analysis where the average speed was 2.0 hits / second. Nevertheless, it must be noted that it is only a small sample of the 107 points that were played in the match and might not be representative of the full match speed.

The keys

The players style and how much they know each other made the match a non-stop battle of quick shots that constantly tried to challenge the opponent’s footwork. Ding Ning overwhelmed Zhu Yuling when it came to that, especially after she was able to use her serve for that purpose and take the point initiative.

On the other hand, Zhu Yuling was able to win two sets in a row with two faulty starts from Ding Ning, who was not able to come back. However, when she led the match, Zhu Yuling found it impossible to even the score and that allowed Ding Ning to win the last three sets in a row.

The fourth set, where Ding Ning avoided becoming 1-3 down by winning 12-10, could have changed everything and we may have had a different World Champion right now. However, Ding Ning’s experience in this kind of situation was the key to overcoming that to become the 2017 Women’s Singles World Champion.

See you in Budapest

The 2019 Singles and Doubles World Championships will take place in Budapest, Hungary. It will not be until then that Zhu Yuling will have the chance to take her revenge against Ding Ning. Let’s see whether she and Ding Ning manage to reach the final again. They will need the consent of their Chinese teammates and, who knows, maybe from unexpected guests from Japan or Korea.

As the 2017 World Championships finish, the table tennis action will not halt for long, as the Japan Open starts on June 14th.

Stay tuned to our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) for an article to come analyzing the Men’s Singles final between Ma Long and Fan Zhendong and enjoy all the 2017 WTTC action on demand at the official ITTF channel.

* Cover photo: ITTF

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