Wales' 11-year-old table tennis star Anna Hursey continues to shine on Gold Coast
GOLD COAST, Australia -- The venues for the Commonwealth Games run right along the Gold Coast. From Coolangatta to Currumbin, out to the Hinterland and up to Brisbane. But just 15 minutes from the heart of the City lies Australia's Movie World theme park where the tagline reads: Hollywood on the Gold Coast.
For the 12 days of the Games, Movie World's Oxenford Studios is playing host to boxing, squash and table tennis. And in a script worthy of Tinseltown itself, 11-year-old Welsh schoolgirl and table tennis sensation Anna Hursey continued to go about her business.
When ESPN visited Sound Studio No. 8 Tuesday, the small temporary seating was roughly three-quarters full. There were two table tennis matches being played, but even those supporters positioned in front of Kenyan Brian Ndunda Matua and Barbados' Kristian Doughty turned their heads to watch Hursey in action.
What the fans got was a demolition job. From the moment she stepped into the arena, barring a small acknowledgement to a handful of Welsh fans, Hursey was completely focused. Little more than half an hour later, the whitewash of Uganda's Halima Nambozo, 19, was completed.
"She's always a focused girl, always focused on what she needs to do and she believes in her ability and what she can do out there when she plays well," Wales coach Stephen Jenkins said postgame.
"From the first point to the last point, she just really wanted to win and she knew exactly what she needed to do. And she did it, she did really well to win 4-0 under the circumstances."
The first set was just about buried when Hursey unleashed a booming forehand that whistled past Nambozo, the Ugandan unable to get her paddle anywhere near it. Midway through the second, the backhand did the talking as Hursey opened up a 5-0 lead.
"Her best shot? Her backhand, probably, I'd say," Jenkins says. "Her backhand's the winning shot, the forehand [has more spin]. The backhand's more powerful; the serve is excellent.
"But backhand, I'd say, is the key. That's the big shot, and that's the big shot in the women's game itself; the top Chinese have an amazing backhand. So that's what Anna's trying to achieve now."
The few times Hursey does make a mistake, she resets, practices the stroke and is right back to the table. At such a young age, it's astonishing how at home she looks.
Hursey made a slower start to the third, giving up the first couple of points. But a short while later, the match was over. In her first singles match at the Commonwealth Games, Hursey won in straight sets -- 11-5, 11-4, 11-5, 11-4.
She had already helped Wales to the quarterfinals of the women's team event over the weekend before they eventually lost to Australia, 3-1.
In Wales' two group matches, Hursey combined with Charlotte Carey to win doubles games against India and Sri Lanka while she forced Ishara Madurangi -- a Sri Lankan woman 16 years her senior -- to five sets in a team singles match before she was eventually pipped 11-7 in the decider.
As the youngest competitor at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Hursey has already achieved something spectacular. For now, though, Jenkins' job is as much about making the whole experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. It may have the story of a Hollywood blockbuster, but, like any kid who visits Movie World, the bottom line should be fun.
"I've got to behave as a coach differently for Anna to any of the other girls I work with," Jenkins says. "[I've got to] make it a bit more relaxed, a bit more fun, so she finds the whole situation really calm and really relaxing and she just goes out there and plays her game then. That's really important."