(By Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)
Zagreb was host this week to the Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Croatia Open. As a part of the Challenge Series, the tournament did not feature Top 20 players, but Chuang Chih-Yuan (No. 25), Dristian Karlsson (No. 32), and Kanak Jha (No. 40) leading the way, there were 13 players in the World’s Top 75.
In the top half of the draw, top seeded Chuang Chih-Yuan won three matches on his way to the Semifinals. On of those wins was a net or edge shy of an upset, as Croatia’s Wei Shihao fought the top seed into the seventh game before losing. Chuang had been up comfortably 3-1 before Wei rallied for two straight wins and a scores as close as 9-7 and 10-8 in the final game.
Kanak Jha was the next highest seed in the top half, but he fell to a hot Anton Kallberg. Jha was in control over the young Swede early winning the first two games. But Kallberg tied the match 2-2 with a pair of his own wins. Jha then pulled out the decisive fifth game to take a 3-2 lead and was tied at 10-10 in the sixth game. But Kallberg fought back to win the final two games to advance. After defeating Jha, Kallberg rolled forward, taking out Germany’s Robin Devos 4-3, and then upsetting Chuang Chih-Yuan 4-3 to reach the Final.
The bottom half or the draw saw a dominant Kristian Karlsson run through the competition losing only 3 games in four matches on his way to the final. The tournment’s fourth seed, Gustavo Tsuboi was upset early by Japan’s Takuya Jin. Jin then fell to Tomislav Pucar. Pucar was a surprise to make it to the semifinals, but he was no match for Kristian Karlsson.
The Men’s final was an all-Sweden affair, and also an all-Butterfly event as both players have Butterfly sponsorship. Karlsson’s dominance ended in the Final. Kallberg jumped out to an early lead by winning the first three games. He then split the final two for the 4-1 victory. Kallberg over Karlsson 4-1 (8, 8, 10, -8, 4).
In the Men’s U21 event, both USA entrants had strong showings. Ye Tian logged two upset wins before falling in the Quarterfinals to France’s Bastien Rembert. And Kanak Jha logged five wins before falling in the Final to Japan’s Yukiya Uda 3-1.
The story of the Women’s singles event was the dominance of Japan. They provided five of the top 8 seeds in the tournament, including the top two seeds. But they launched seven players into the Final 16, six players into the Final 8, and all four players in the Quarters and Finals. In the end, it was Miyuu Kihara over Miyu Kato – with the World No. 84 surprising the World No. 22 with a 4-3 win.
USA’s Jennfier Wu advanced to the Round of 16 before falling to Japan’s Haruna Ojio 4-1. Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz advanced all the way to the Quarterfinals before losing to Miyuu, the eventual winner. Diaz also competed in the Women’s U21 where she advanced to the Semifinals before losing to Jiayi Sun of Croatia. Diaz had the unfortunate experience of facing both event winners – as Sun went on to win the U21 event over Japan’s Soma.
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