Austrian Open Update: Xu Xin and a Series of Upsets
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Austrian Open Update: Xu Xin and a Series of Upsets

Austrian Open Update: Xu Xin and a Series of Upsets

Austrian Open Update: Xu Xin and a Series of Upsets
(by Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)

The Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Platinum, Liebherr Austrian Open is down to the last day.  The men’s event included 177 competitors and began with qualifying rounds which lead to 16 qualifiers who joined the top 16 seeds in the main draw.  The top seeds mirrored the world rankings, with all of the top 30 ranked players in the world present.  At the time of the seeding, the top four in the world were Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin, Timo Boll, and Dimitrij Ovtcharov.  Lin Gaoyuan has replaced Ovtcharov in the top four in the November rankings, but all five of those players were present and expected to contend for the title in Linz, Austria.

The story begins in the preliminary rounds where this very competitive field was narrowed.  Germany managed to win two of the qualifiers with Patrick Franziski and Ricardo Wather each advancing.  China and Japan each added four qualifiers: Zhou Qihao, Zheng Piefeng, Liu Dingshuo, and Liang Jingkun for China and Maharu Yoshimura and Jin Ueda and Kazuhiro Yoshimura and Koyo Kanamitsu for Japan.  Korea qualified Ganghyeon Park and Woojin Jang.  And the last four were Lin Yun-Ju of Taipei, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran of India, Liam Pitchford of England, and Niagol Stoyanov of Italy.

To put the quality of the draw in context, the names of the players eliminated in the qualifying rounds have made many headlines at other world tour events.  Notable players eliminated in the preliminary rounds included Tiago Apolonia, Stefan Fegerl, Vladimir Samsonov, Quadri Aruna, Mattias Falck, Benedikt Duda, Ovidiu Ionescu, Gustavo Tsuboi, Kenta Matsudaira, Bastian Steger, Sangeun Jeong, Sharath Achanta, Kristian Karlsson, Ruwen Filus, and Simon Gauzy.

Fan Zhendong won three rounds on his way to the semifinals.  Ovtcharov, the fourth seed, fell in the round of 32 to Lin Yun-Ju of Taipei (4-2).  Lin then fell to Chinese qualifier Liang Jingkun 4-2.  Jingkun then defeated Hugo Calderano 4-0 to reach the semfinal round against Fan.

In the other half of the draw, second seeded Xu Xin cruised to the semis with wins over Liu, Gnanasekaran, and Harimoto.  The Harimoto match was closer than the 4-2 game score with Harimoto winning the first the fifth game, but losing two other game at deuce (one at 17-15).  Third seeded Timo Boll beat countryman Patrick Franziska in a tough 4-3 match and then won a hard-fought comeback 4-2 win over China’s Zheng Peifeng (-10, -8, 10, 10, 3, 8).  Boll then fell behind 2-0 again against qualifier Liam Pitchford.  He evened the score at 2-2, but Pitchford then pulled away for a 4-2 upset.

The result of the knock-out rounds was top seed Fan Zendong against unexpected qualifier Liang Jingkun in one semifinal and second seeded Xu Xin against unexpected qualifier Liam Pitchford.  Xu Xin took care of business and dominated with a 4-0 win.  The other semifinal did not go as scripted.  Zhendong won the first game 12-10 only to fall in the second game 9-11.  Zhendong then won the third game easily 11-6.  From that point, however, the match was all Jiangkun with straight wins of 11-7, 11-8, and 11-9.

Jingkun is clearly the story of the tournament.  He entered as 71st seed with a world ranking of No. 80.  He has already logged wins in this tournament over No. 1, No. 9, No. 11, No. 18, No. 41, and No. 47 in the World.  Jingkun is not an unknown player.  In 2015 he made the semifinals of the Swedish Open and was invited to the worlds to compete on with the Chinese team as a promising junior.  However, he did not play at all internationally on the tour in 2016 and then had a run of eight tour events in 2017 and 2018 without another semifinal appearance.  His fortunes seem to have turned in 2018 with a second-place finish at the Korean Open and now a dominant performance this week.  Regardless of the outcome of the final on Sunday, Jingkun is a clear winner in Austria.

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