(by Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)
A year ago, Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju had a great year as a junior. At the time, he was seventeen and managed to win three U21 events at World Tour events and finished in the Top 4 at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. In March of this year, Lin won the ITTF Challenge event in Oman – logging wins over Bastian Steger, Tiago Apolonia, Tomislav Pucar, and Mattias Falck. In July, he won the fast-format T2 Diamond and logged wins over Ma Long and Fan Zhendong. But one of those events had a modified match format and the other was a Challenge Series event that is not as competitive as the tour. The Czech Open is a coming out party for Lin Yun-Ju – the Butterfly player’s first World Tour event win.
The 2019 ITTF World Tour Czech Open was played this week (August 20-25) in Olomouc, Czech Republic. The top half of the Men’s Singles draw included two of the most popular Butterfly players as the top seeds: Tomokazu Harimoto and Timo Boll. It also included Koki Niwa and Sangsu Lee in a very talented pool of players. The bottom half of the draw featured Hugo Calderano, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Patrick Franziska and Jun Mizutani.
Top seeded Harimoto fell in his first match 4-3 to Cristian Pletea of Romania. Harimoto seemingly had the match well in hand after winning the first two games easily – and then being up 3-1. But it was Pletea that turned the tables with three hard-fought wins in a row to seal the 4-3 upset. Marcos Freitas upset Koki Niwa 4-1 in the round of 32 as well, eliminating the second highest ranked Japanese player.
Lin Yun-Ju, the rising 18-year-old star from Taipei had been set to play both Niwa and Harimoto – but now took advantage of a much easier path to the Semifinals (with wins over Chen Chien-An, Marcos Freitas, and Yuki Hirano). For his part, Boll took care of business and advanced to the Semifinal – with wins over Xia, Uda, and Sangsu Lee.
In the bottom half of the draw, the top two seeds were dominant. Hugo Calderano lost two games in three matches on his way to the Semifinal. Dimitrij Ovtcharov lost only three games through his three wins.
The Lin/Boll Semifinal involved some major momentum shifts. They each won one tight game early – Lin besting Boll 12-10 in the opening game, and Boll answering with a 9-11 win in the next game. Lin dominated the following two games, winning 11-2 and 11-6. Boll then reversed the tide and dominated two games of his own, with 11-5 and 11-6 wins. The final game was tight throughout, but it was Lin who pulled away at the end for the 11-8 win. Lin over Boll 4-3.
Hugo Calderano won the first game in the other Semifinal. But Ovtcharov controlled the match from that point forward. Ovtcharov won four of the final five games, including three 2-point wins. Ovtcharov into the finals with a 4-2 win (-7, 9, 6, 11, -6, 9).
The first game of the Final was tied 9-9 before Yun-Ju won two in a row. To that point, Lin had been aggressively attacking but played two very safe, slower points that forced errors from Ovtcharov. Ovtcharov didn’t recover quickly as Lin dominated the second game from the start. Ovtcharov won Game 3, but Lin won the final two games for the 4-1 victory.
Lin is a thin left-hander with a solid backhand and good touch around the net. But it is his quickness that sets him apart. His shots start from his legs and he seemingly can get to every ball and set up his strong forehands. At just 18 years old, he has already developed an exciting style that should continue to evolve over the next few years. After this performance, his ranking, which is already in the Top 20, is sure to improve as well.
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