‘Never too late to learn’ – 54-year-old Ni Xialian sets record for the longest-ever professional table tennis match

China-born player who has represented Luxembourg for more than 20 years stars in epic win over Japanese rival at Austrian Open

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 1:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 1:22pm

At 54 years of age, Ni Xialian is still playing professional table tennis for Luxembourg – and she’s just set a record for the longest-ever match.

Ni, still ranked 63 in the world despite her age, overcame Honoka Hashimoto in the women’s singles at the Austrian Open 4-3 after almost one hour and 43 minutes, and said: “It’s never too late to learn”.

Perhaps her patience should not be surprising – she was a world champion with China way back in 1983.

Some 33 years later, she was flag-bearer for Luxembourg at the Rio Olympics, her third Games for her adopted country.

The 9-11, 5-11, 11-6, 11-6, 5-11, 16-14, 18-16 win over No 7 seed Hashimoto set a new world record for the longest ever professional match in the modern era, clocking in at one hour, 33 minutes and 42 seconds according to the ITTF.

“I’m really speechless, an unforgettable match,” said the 54-year-old Ni. “It’s also a wonderful match and nice to win, if I lost, it would be a shame.

“I have [missed] so many match points because my experience is not enough. But it’s never too late to learn, you see. I will learn to be more patient and I have a lot of potential. Be careful.”

Shanghai-born Ni made her international debut in 1978, before most of her current opponents were born.

A mother and now aged 35, Tie Yana's no spring chicken, but she's still full of fight

Tie Yana, aged 38 and who has played for Hong Kong for almost two decades, has said she could never think of retirement as Ni is still playing on tour.

Ni won the team and mixed doubles world championships titles with China in 1983. She moved to Germany in 1989, settled down in Luxembourg two years later, and has represented their national team since 1995.

At least 44 of the 172 table tennis players at the Rio Olympics were Chinese-born according to a New York Times article, playing for 21 out of the 56 countries including Congo, Ukraine and Qatar.