Chen Longcan Article in the USATT Magazine

The Editor shortened the article and credited the photo used as mine. It was actually taken by Dan Lin.

Here is the full article originally submitted to the USATT magazine.

Chen Longcan at the 2007 US Open

(From left Tang Gaolin, Marty Reisman, Cheng Yinghua, and Chen Longcan in the "Top of the World" at top of the Stratosphere)

(From left Peter Tsang, Mark Johnson, Bo Lei, and Chen Longcan in an 11-seater limo to Stratosphere)

Quite a few familiar names, such as Aleksandar Karakasevic, Thomas Keinath, Wilson Zhang, and Stefan Feth returned to play in the US Open this year. Although trouble with their travel documents forced a few top Indian players to withdraw from the Open at the last minute, the presence of the Japan national team made the men’s singles draw very strong.

However an “old guy” whose hairline is nearly as high as the altitude of Las Vegas made quite a splash at the Open. Chen Longcan, age 42, former Olympic gold medalist, had entered the men’s singles.

Chen is a good friend of Cheng Yinghua, many times US Nationals champion. They are from the same province and were teammates on both the China national team and the Sichuan province team. In fact, they had teamed together to win the men’s doubles at the 1987 China Nationals.

After retiring from the China national team in 1991, Chen went on to play in Japan and had the highest winning rate in Japan. In 1999 at the first World Club competition in China, he represented Nissan Motors and stunned Wang Tao and Liu Guoliang.

In the year 2000, Chen decided to retire as a player. He chose the North American Teams Championships in Baltimore as his last tournament. His 9-0 record earned him a 2809 USATT rating. After the tournament, Chen coached Fukuhara Ai, the highest ranked female player in Japan now, for a full year before he decided to return to China in 2001 although eligible for Japanese citizenship.

Chen is now the head coach of Sichuan province in China. He has not played a tournament since 2000. When he played in an exhibition, he used inverted rubber to make it easier for his opponents. But could he still play competitively after retiring from competition for seven years? Lots of people were dubious about that. After all, this was the US Open!

Despite his 2809 USATT rating, Chen had to play the preliminary round robin since he no longer had a world ranking. Chen had two sub-2000 players in his group. Although Chen won both matches easily, it was hard to tell how good or bad he was since he simply pushed or blocked down his opponents without much moving. In the two best of seven matches, his opponents averaged 10 points per match.

In the first round of the main draw, Chen faced Andreas Baecker from Germany who came in with a 2436 USATT rating. It appeared Chen was not comfortable playing competitively any more as he lost the first game in deuce. He had trouble returning the serve and serving short. It was very tough for his fans to see an Olympic gold medalist struggle like that. Chen continued to struggle in the second game but won it 11:9 to even the match at one game apiece. A spectator unintentionally commented out loud that Chen was old. Chen just might have heard that. All of a sudden it was all Chen in the following three games, winning 4, 3, and 8! Chen appeared to gaze in the direction of that spectator just for a moment after the match.

His second round match was against Khoa Nguyen, a two-time US Olympian. Chen and Khoa are old acquaintances. They had played in an exhibition in San Francisco in 2000. Chen seemed to loosen up a bit in this match, beating Khoa in four.

In the next round fighting for a spot in the quarter-finals, Chen faced Shen Qiang. Shen Qiang was born in China but is currently a member of the Canada national team. Chen dispatched Shen quickly. (8,4,10,9)

Chen’s serves in this match wowed quite a few spectators. Chen could impart a deadly spin with a seemingly casual swipe of his backhand. Shen either pushed it into the bottom of the net or popped it up for the inevitable smash. Hardly noticeable, Chen twiddles his racket. He uses the inverted side to serve and immediately twiddles to the short pips side. People could only see it because the colors of the two rubbers were different. Imagine the problem this would present if there were still no two-color rule!

Hey, the “old guy” was in the quarter-finals! Even Chen himself was smiling. Chen mentioned somewhat proudly, while smoking like a chimney after the match, that he honestly did not expect to advance this far.

Chen’s quarter-final opponent, Yosuke Kurashima, was also an old friend. Chen had played him several times when he was in Japan. He was not sure if he had ever lost to Yosuke-san. After all, it was more than ten years ago. However, this time, it was going to be different. Yosuke-san had just upset the second seed Thomas Keinath 4:1 in the previous round. Yosuke Kurashima was no longer a green kid and Chen was no longer in his prime.

It was arguably the most watched quarter-final match of the tournament. A large crowd, mostly Chinese people over 30, gathered in the arena to watch the match. They cheered for Chen, mostly in Chinese but sometimes in English, throughout the match just like they had 20 years ago. (Chen won his Men’s Doubles World Championship in 1987) But Kurashima was able to ignore the spectators in the first game, winning at 3. Chen probably had not played at this level for quite a long time. However, he did not panic. Actually, he looked pretty calm. He did not even use his backhand serve. He was able to turn the table by winning the next two games. This made the crowd go absolutely crazy. The rowdy middle-aged crowd chanted as loud as if they were at a rock concert back in their youth!

However, Kurashima regrouped. He won the next two games convincingly to snatch back the lead in the match 3:2. But just when people began to think it was all over, Chen won game 6 to tie the match. He refused to go away without putting up a fight! But alas, Chen could not sustain the momentum and lost game 7 and the match. In the end, youth was finally served.

This was not the first US Open for Chen. It was actually his fourth. He had also played in the ’89, ’90, and ’91 US Opens. Chen always enjoys visiting the US and may come back to play again, provided that it is still in Las Vegas!

(photo by Dan Lin)

A brief list of Chen’s achievements:
• 1985 World Championships - 1st in Teams, 2nd in Men's Singles
• 1986 World Cup - 1st in Men's Singles
• 1987 World Championships - 1st n Teams, 1st in Men's Doubles
• 1988 Olympics - 1st in Men's Doubles, 2nd in Teams
• 1988 Asian Championships - 1st in Men's Singles, 1st in Men's Doubles

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Chen Longcan and Xiao Wei Footage