(By Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)
2018 Asian Cup: A Day 1 Quake in Yokahama
The first day of the 2018 Asian Cup included a real shake-up of the top seeds. Actually, with the top two seeds losing on the first day, labeling this as a “shake” is an understatement — When you are in Yokahama and your rising 14 year old Japanese star upsets the No.1 player in the world, you have a full-blown earthquake on your hands.
The Asian Cup is comprised of three championships round robins, with the top two advancing from each. The top two seeds in the tournament were the two entries from China: World No. 1 Fan Zhendong and World No. 5 Lin Gaoyuan. Both top seeds were upset in the first stage round robin.
Tomakazu Harimoto stole the show on the first day with his upset of Fan Zhendong (3-1). Harimoto, the 14 year old phenom from host country Japan, entered the event as the sixth seed. When the two last met in the World Cup, the had great rallies and close games, but Fan won in straight sets (3-0). That was not the case today – as two were evenly matched throughout, but Harimoto closed out the tight games. As has become the signature of Harimoto, his backhand dominated the points. Both players used the backhand flip aggressively – often moving into the forehand side of the table, but Harimoto’s backhand side in rallies continues to be aggressive (often striking the ball very close to the table and hitting hard balls and flat trajectories deep into the corners). This strategy was effective both down the line (staying wide to the forehand corner) and crosscourt (playing wide balls that forced Fan away from the table). Harimoto is always an emotional player, but in this venue with all of the Japanese fans, he was even more animated. The first game went to Harimoto, the second to Fan, and the final two games to Harimoto (-8, 8, -9, -8).
The second group had a similar result with Korea’s Sangsu Lee defeating China’s Gaoyuan Lin. Lee took the first game close, but then dominated thereafter winning in straight games (-8, -5, -5).
Fortunately for Team China – neither Fan nor Lin have been eliminated. Both would have been rewarded with a bye had they won their division – now the road to the Final is a little tougher.
Tomorrow in Round 2, Fan Zhendong (China) will face Noki Niwa (Japan) and Lin Gaoyuan (China) will face Chun Ting Wong (Hong Kong). And Harimoto will face Jeong (Korea) and Sangsu Lee plays Nima Alamian (Iran). Both the Quarterfinals and the Semifinals will be played on Saturday. The Finals will be Sunday.
The Asian Cup has started off with a quake – We’ll be watching the rest of the weekend to see if there are any aftershocks.