It was the sound of the plastic ball popping back and forth across the table that first drew Mak Tze-wing to ping pong. The star paddler, who a claimed an historic silver medal for Hong Kong in December, grew up watching her father and elder brother play. After years of watching on the side and picking up loose balls, she asked her dad if he could teach her how to play.
Eleven years later, and 18-year-old Tze-wing is a decorated competitor, having claimed medals at major Asian and international tournaments. Last year’s biggest win came at the World Junior Table Tennis Championships in South Africa, where she batted aside China’s Sun Yizhen to advance to the semi-final.
Besides winning her silver, she won two bronze medals in the doubles and team events. Her teammate Ng Pak-nam, who also won a bronze medal in the boys singles event, was recently honoured. alongside Tze-wing at the Sports for Hope Foundation Outstanding Junior Athlete Awards.
Tze-wing was named “Most promising junior athlete”, having been one of the Foundation’s most prolific winners in 2016, with at least three quarterly awards.
Speaking at the ceremony, Tze-wing said, “Sun was a very strong opponent who I’ve never beaten before. All I wanted was to give my best and enjoy the game, and that was when the miracle happened.
“I have learnt many good lessons from the senior squad members – no matter what kinds of difficulties or obstacles are waiting ahead, you should not doubt yourself for any reason,” she shared.
September’s Asian Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championships in Bangkok was another important event for Tze-wing, as she was crowned champion in the Junior Girls Doubles, and also won bronze in the Junior Girls Team event.
“The doubles win really surprised me, because it was the first time Hong Kong had ever won the award. China was our greatest threat and we beat them. It was unbelievable!” she tells Young Post.
Preparing for this tournament took a lot of dedication. Tze-wing would go running at 6.30am every morning. “I did lots of fitness training before this tournament because I knew it was going to be a difficult one,” she reveals. “I like knowing I’ve put in the effort before an important competition, especially when it means I perform well and win a medal.”
But an intense schedule can leave Tze-wing feeling drained “I use nearly a third of my training time going to school or revising for exams. And when my teammates are watching movies or having meals in restaurants, I’m having extra training or I’m studying.”
When she does find time to wind down, you’ll find Tze-wing immersed in food – whether that’s grabbing curry fishballs in Mong Kok with her dad, whipping up a dish with her mum, or enjoying a cookery show on TV. “I always ask my mum to teach me how to cook delicious meals. Sometimes when I am really tired after a whole day of training, I will watch some cooking tutorial videos. It’s how I relax.”
Tze-wing is looking to up her game in the coming years, as she continues to compete on an international stage, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in her crosshair. To get there, she wants to train and compete a lot more on the mainland, which has produced outstanding players over the years.
Along the way, she’ll be looking up to mainland swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who found fame after last year’s Olympics. “I like her attitude when she’s faced with difficulty,” says Tze-wing.
“She’s always optimistic and grateful, and doesn’t care too much about winning. However, she tries her best in competitions, and knows that happiness is much more important in life than fame.”
Edited by Andrew McNicol