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2018 Asian Cup Recap: An Early Knockdown Doesn't Deter the Champ

2018 Asian Cup Recap: An Early Knockdown Doesn’t Deter the Champ

(By Steve Hopkins)
2018 Asian Cup Recap: An Early Knockdown Doesn’t Deter the Champ

The first day of the 2018 Asian Cup included a real shake-up of the top seeds as rising 14 year old Japanese star Tomakazu Harimoto upset World No.1 Fan Zhendong 3-1 in the round robins and Korea’s Sangsu Lee defeating China’s Gaoyuan Lin (World No. 5) in three straight games.  Because the top two advanced from each round robin, this did not eliminate either of the top seeds – it just created a more difficult road for each to reach the Finals.  With the event in Yokahama, and Harimoto being a rising Japanese Star, the biggest story of that first day is likely to remain the biggest story of the tournament.
The second day, however, was not a good day for the host country.  The young Harimoto came out flat against Korea’s Sangeun Jeong and was never really in the match as he fell 4-1 (7, -8, 9, 5, 8).  And the other Japanese player to make the main draw, Koki Niwa also fell 4-1, winning the first game over Fan Zhendong, but then losing the next four games.  The Semifinals were then set with Lin (China) v. Jeong (Korea) and Fan (China) v. Lee (Korea).
The twist in the Semifinal had more to do with how the players reached that point than the result (both Chinese players won the matches easily).  Conspiracy theorists on the internet were immediately questioning whether the Chinese players lost on purpose (or whether one lost and the other then lost on purpose).  Had only one Chinese player lost, then they could have potentially faced each other in the Semifinals.  Similarly, had Harimoto not pulled off the upset on Day 1, then there would have been an all-Japanese quarterfinal and either Niwa or Harimoto would have represented Japan in the semis.
Regardless of the “what ifs” that accompany all sports – the Semifinals proceeded as expected and balance was restored.  Lin Gaoyuan defeated Sangeun Jeong 4-0.  Fan Zhendong then defeated Sangsu Lee 4-1.  And on the final day of the tournament, Fan Zhendong defeated Lin Gaoyuan in straight games 4-0 (3, 13, 8, 11).
If you just read the event and the winner, you might assume that the Top Seed’s victory in an All-Chinese Final at the Asian Cup is another slow news day.  But there were some interesting stories here.  Japan made the biggest headline with Harimoto, but fell short on the second day with both entries.  Still, Japan can see promise on the horizon.  And Korea can be proud of their big upset on the first day as well as the fact that both of their entries reached the Semifinals.  And the news is not all positive for China either – while the result is what they wanted, the road was more difficult.  China is still on top, but the three power teams in Asia (China, Japan, Korea) may be a closer in parity than many years in the past.


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