Table tennis worlds: a silver medal and dreams for France

The step was too high, but it should not erase the distance traveled to get there

Table tennis worlds: a silver medal and dreams for France

The step was too high, but it should not erase the distance traveled to get there. Opposed to the impregnable China, the French men's table tennis team failed to defy the predictions on Sunday February 25 in the final of the world championships. The Blues came across better than them and lost sharply (0-3), inside the Pusan ​​Exhibition and Convention Center. If they will leave South Korea weighed down by a few regrets – notably Alexis Lebrun, of not having been able to realize a match point against the world number one –, the French will especially take home a world silver medal in their luggage which bodes well , five months before the start of the Paris Olympic Games (July 26 to August 11).

“Of course we are outsiders, and by far, they have the five best players in the world,” observed Félix Lebrun, the young French table tennis prodigy, before the match. But, over the course of a day, you never know. In any case, we're going to give it our all, we believe in it 100%. » Crowned for the eleventh time in a row at the World Team Championships, the Chinese did not offer any resistance to the French assaults. And, on the podium, the big smiles of the blue squad quickly chased away the gestures of frustration seen during the final. Because, unlike their evening opponents, the French are hardly familiar with world podiums: this silver medal equals the best French performance in the competition, twenty-seven years after the “Mousquetaires” led by Jean-Philippe Gatien – and seventy-six years after 1948.

“All the emotions are mixed together. I am sad, happy, disappointed, very happy too, expressed Alexis Lebrun after the meeting, in a video posted online by the French Table Tennis Federation. It’s difficult, but it’s an incredible moment to experience. » The eldest of the “Lebrun brothers”, new siblings who count in French sport, for a time maintained the dream of unsealing the impregnable Chinese wall, led on Sunday by the first three players in the world ranking – the first non-national of the Middle Kingdom being his brother, Félix Lebrun, 6th player in the world. Opposing the world number one, Fan Zhendong, he obtained a match point, having at the end of the racket the opportunity to put the two teams back on a tie (1-1), after the dry inaugural defeat of his younger brother. Without success.

“To win this kind of matches, I perhaps still lack a little precision in important moments,” analyzed Alexis Lebrun. Even more so when the opponent is the reigning world champion (in singles), and has not lost a single set in his two matches in the hotly contested semi-final against South Korea (3-2 victory). , SATURDAY).

“We realize what we did.”

Fan Zhendong finally defeated his opponent on Sunday (3-2 [9-11, 11-4, 8-11, 12-10, 11-7]), but the 21st player in the world, aged 20, l He looked into his eyes, perfectly embodying his little brother's slogan the day before. “We will give everything to try to create the feat, first of all by winning point by point, set by set, and if afterwards we manage to win a match, try to look for another,” assured Félix Lebrun, Saturday, after the semi-final won by the Blues against Taiwan.

Unlike his brother, the new phenomenon of French table tennis was unable to compete with his opponent. Opposed to world number two, Wang Chuqin, at the opening of the final, he was unceremoniously swept aside (3-0 [11-4, 11-8, 11-3]), unable to put the Blues into orbit as he did. heard. Frustrated at the time, Félix Lebrun then admitted to having been upgraded. “He’s exceptional, he played at a level that I couldn’t reach in this match. It was very hard for me to feel so dominated, admitted the Frenchman. I would have liked to bring my point to the team, but this time it was for him, and not for me. »

Uninhibited, despite the two defeats of his partners, Simon Gauzy boldly attacked his round in the final, facing the legend Ma Long, double Olympic champion in singles (in Rio, in 2016, and in Tokyo, in 2021). Although he conceded the first set, the latter ended up winning (3-1 [7-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-6]), offering China its eleventh world team title in a row. In the 21st century, only Sweden, in February 2000, managed to prevent the Middle Kingdom from lifting the world trophy. “The first feeling is disappointment, but quickly we realize what we have done,” whispered Simon Gauzy. When I saw France versus China in the men's final on the screen in the room, I realized it was something incredible. I had been watching it since I was little on TV, and there I was. »

One day after the bronze medal of their female counterparts – also beaten by China, ultimately crowned – the Blues leave Pusan ​​with a historic medal, memories and the lessons of a first world final. A few months before the Olympics, which they will play at home, French table tennis is doing well. And will intend to aim even higher in Paris 2024.