Liren Ding's problem is reminiscent of that of basketball player Ricky Rubio, as both suffer from “a mental rather than physical illness” related to the extreme pressure of high-performance sport. In Ding's case, in mental sports par excellence. The 31-year-old Chinese has suffered from lack of sleep and severe sleep disorders since winning the World Cup last April and has hardly played since. This Saturday he competes again in a very difficult environment: at the Tata tournament in Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands), where nine of his thirteen rivals are elite; and six of them are young people born in India (Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa), China (Yi Wei), Iran (Firouzja, Nationalized French and Maghsoodloo) and Uzbekistan (Abdusatórov), major powers in current chess.
Ding also “didn’t sleep for a minute” on the night of April 30 in Astana, Kazakhstan, after playing like a kamikaze to defeat Russia’s Ian Niepómniashi in the World Championship’s electrifying quick tiebreaker. The next morning he told EL PAÍS that he liked philosophy, poetry and seeing and hearing the rain, but that elite chess had also forced him to be very competitive; That day he cried when he remembered the advice a friend had given him during the most difficult moment of the title duel. It makes sense, then, that such a sensitive and cultured person would feel a lot of pressure to be world champion in a fashion sport with 1,500 years of documented history.
But this Friday he said he felt good when he met the journalist again at the opening ceremony of Wijk aan Zee: “Much better than three months ago. I don't consider myself a favorite for this tournament as my performance is currently unknown, but I am in good physical and mental shape. And my fans can be sure: I will defend my title at the end of the year and want to win more tournaments. I have thought about retiring several times, most recently in September, but now I see it differently.”
Judging by what he said in his recent interview with Peter Doggers for Chess.com, the aforementioned friend who helped him so much during the World Cup is probably the second Chinese player, Yi Wei, to do so after several years in Wijk aan Zee who gave priority to his university studies in economics. Ding quotes a poem written by Wei, whose opening verses could be translated as follows (without rhyme): “In the quiet month of April, an old friend traveled thousands of miles. The caged bird flies high, the pond fish swims deep in the river.” Ding realizes that he is the bird and Wei is the fish.
But not everything in Ding's life has a spiritual touch: “I used to like basketball. Now more football. “I am a Juventus fan and I trust that this distraction will help me to bear the enormous tension of this tournament better.” Even if the number one, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, is not there, he is “on a well-deserved vacation.” in a video broadcast on the occasion of the inauguration, Wijk aan Zee is not a suitable setting to play at half throttle.
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