Though the 26-year-old has been virtually untouchable in singles
since his 2011 world title in Rotterdam, his lackluster performances
in team events have been a source of frustration for long-serving
coach Liu Guoliang.
China won the world championships team event in Japan in May but
Zhang was swept 3-0 by Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov in his rubber of
the final, and also had a surprise loss to Taiwan's Chen Chien-an at
last year's World Team Classic in Guangzhou.
Liu cautioned the Qingdao-born paddler, the fastest winner of the
'grand slam' of Olympic, world championship and world cup table
tennis' titles, against complacency and said his team mates were
eyeing his place for the Rio singles.
"I gave him some reminders and even warnings about his position,"
Liu told local media. "In the nearly two-year period to Rio, the
competition will be fierce. He really can't make have a mistake.
"(World number two) Fan Zhendong and (number one) Xu Xin are also a
chance (to win the grand slam) and I believe their ability now is
the same as it was for when Zhang won his."
Liu said Zhang had been dogged by questions about his sense of team
camaraderie and responsibility over the past two years, and that
"the problems had not been fundamentally solved".
"Some of his performances on court have been listless ... He has
appeared like he doesn't care and has actually given me the feeling
his heart's not in it. I felt that was obvious at the championships
[to top of second column]
Boasting all of the men's top four in singles and six of the top
seven in women's singles, China are almost certain to dominate the
Asian Games tournament at Incheon, but Liu was adamant he would come
down hard on any weak links.
"In the Asian Games team component, (Zhang) can't make any mistake,"
he said. "With every loss there's danger. By the time he feels that
danger, it might be too late for him."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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