ITTF World Tour Grand Finals: Ma Long Wins Sixth - Butterfly Table Tennis
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Top spot yet again, milestone for Ma Long

ITTF World Tour Grand Finals: Ma Long Wins Sixth

(by Steve Hopkins)

The final RESTART Event, the 2020 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, has finished in Zhengzhou, China.   The Sixteen best Men and Women were narrowed down to the final two for Sunday’s Final – and two the most celebrated players of recent years closed out this very strange year on top.

THE FINAL:

Fan Zhendong booked his ticket to the Final on Saturday by ending the amazing underdog run of Woojin Jang 4-1.  The match wasn’t close – perhaps the result of Jang’s amazing play earlier in the event which included ousting Harimoto and Gaoyuan.

Ma Long booked his ticket with a minor upset over Xu Xin.  The surprise wasn’t Ma Long winning, as historically these two have played very close, their rankings were very close, and Ma Long had won this same event five previous times.  The surprise was how easily Ma Long advanced – losing the first game 13-11 and then running off four straight wins.

The Final was a 4-1 win for Ma Long.  It may have been closer than the score, as the first and third games were both 10-10 ties and Ma Long won both.  That said, this is where Ma Long shines.  The biggest event of the year, played at the end of the year, without qualification rounds or other things getting in the way of the elite play.  On this stage, Ma Long has now won six times.

The Women’s Event was a testament to the dominance of Chen Meng.  A week ago at the World Cup, Chen Meng lost 4 games in four matches on her way to a 4-1 Finals win.  This week, at the Grand Finals, Chen Meng lost 5 games in four matches on her way to a 4-1 Finals win.  Those Finals wins were over World No.3 (last week) and World No. 5 (this week).  Chen is a step above the rest of the competition, showing that her World No. 1 Ranking (with a 2500 point cushion) is legitimate.

ITTF TV is following the matches via livestream.

Check in at ButterflyOnline.com starting Thursday for updates on the progress of this event and other events.

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UPDATE 2: Fan Zhendong and Ma Long Repeat

The Saturday Semifinals saw Fan Zhendong and Ma Long advance – this will be a repeat of the Finals match-up from the Men’s World Cup last weekend.  Ma Long overcame World No. 2 Xu Xin 4-1.  The first three games were all decided by 2 points – but Ma Long won two of those games.  Ma then carried that advantage forward and closed out the match 4-1.  As a top seed, Xu Xin had not really been challenged thus far and since Ma Long was also in the World Cup a week ago (a tournament where Xu Xin did not play), perhaps the difference today was Ma Long’s recent high pressure practice.

The other Semifinal wasn’t close – Fan Zhendong was the stronger player from the start, losing only one game (15-13) on his way to a 4-1 victory.  That said, the player on the losing end, Woojin Jang, is the story of the tournament.  Check that – Woojin Jang is the biggest story of the ITTF Bubble.  This week, Jang upset World No. 4 Harimoto in his opening match, and then upset World No. 5 Lin Gaoyuan in the Quarters.  A week ago at the World Cup, Jang had to win a qualifier just to make it to the draw.  Once in the World Cup knock-out rounds, he upset World No. 13 Koki Niwa, and then upset World No. 14 Youngsik Jeoung.  Jang joins Fan Zhendong and Ma Long as the three players who reached the Semifinals in both the World Cup and the Grand Finals.  And for the No. 18 player in the world, in two weeks of play against the best in the world, his only two losses are to World No. 1 Fan Zhendong.

There was a minor upset in the Women’s event, where World No. 2 Mima Ito fell to World No. 3 Wang Manyu.  Ito had a scare on Friday, needing 7 games to beat Wang Yidi in the Quarterfinals while Wang Manyu has now coasted all the way to the Finals losing only 1 game along the way.  World No. 1 Chen Meng topped World No. 4 Sun Yingsha 4-0.  It will be Chen/Wang in the Final.

The Finals in both the Men’s and Women’s events are scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

ITTF TV is following the matches via livestream.

Check in at ButterflyOnline.com starting Thursday for updates on the progress of this event and other events.

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UPDATE 1: Another Day, Another Woojin Surprise

The headline of the first day was Korea’s Woojin Jang upsetting World No. 4 Tomokazu Harimoto in the Round of 16.  A day later, its more of the same as Woojin slid past World No. 5 Lin Gaoyuan in the Quarterfinals.  See the match details below.

The ITTF Grand Finals draw is being dominated by Chinese players.  There were four Chinese in the Men’s Draw, and none lost on the first day – and all four were favored to win their Quarterfinals match.  There were four Chinese in the Women’s Draw, and only one has lost (Japan’s Mima Ito overcame Wang Yidi 4-3 in the Quarterfinals).  What we are left with is six Chinese players out of the final eight (3/4 of the Women, and 3/4 of the Men).

Admittedly, China dominates the World Rankings, holding the Top 3 Men’s positions (and 8 of the top 10), and they hold 6 of the top 7 Women’s positions (all except Mima Ito at World No.2).  But in this strange year with the long layoff, China has also had a number of advantages.  The ITTF RESTART events have been in two cities in China, so even without fans packing the venue, the Chinese players have the advantage of familiar surroundings and their normal level of support.  Perhaps the biggest advantage was that the Chinese players did not have to travel and did not have to quarantine – so while the foreign contingent of players arrived to enter the bubble and faced travel restrictions including a week of isolation in a hotel room followed by limited training a second week, Chinese players have continued to prepare.  Perhaps the biggest coup of the Pandemic was the brilliant move by Chinese officials to keep the team abroad – as a previous Butterfly article noted (see China Working Hard Under Lockdown), the Chinese teams were abroad when COVID-19 initially began spreading and the team housed together at a training facility in Macau and road out the quarantine in essentially one of the strongest and longest training camps in history.

With Harimoto falling early in an upset, the four remaining top seeds were all Chinese – each was expected to advance.  Fan Zhendong overcame Hugo Calderano 4-1, Xu Xin overcame Lin Yun-Ju 4-2, and Ma Long topped Mattias Falck 4-2. The biggest story of the Round of 16 was Woojin over Harimoto and it was Woojin Jang versus Lin Gaoyuan in the final Quarterfinal match of the day.

The best of the Quarterfinal matches also featured Woojin Jang and his seesaw battle with Lin Gaoyuan.  Jang started strong with an 11-7 win in the first game and traded points throughout the second game before falling 12-10.  With the game score even, Gaoyuan had a statement win – an 11-1 pounding that showed momentum was on the Chinese player’s side.  But two tight games later, Jang was back on top 3 games to 2.  Gaoyuan pulled away from 8-8 to take the sixth game and tie the game score.

Picking up in the seventh game, both players are loudly calling out every won point.  Jang Woojing won the first two points only to see Lin Gaoyuan win the next three.  After a timeout, Jang is immediately pressured and pop the ball up – forced to lob, but pulls out the point.  Jang won the next two points and the players switch sides with the Korean underdog up 5-3.  A powerful forehand attack down the middle extends the lead to 6-3.  The players trade points off of big forehands (7-4). Gaoyuan plays great short balls and then wins with a heavy spin open from his backhand side.  Jang answers with a long rally finished off with a big forehand (8-6).  A Gaoyuan forehand mistake off of a service return.  Jang plays a long point, and slows the pace – Gaoyuan misses long.  The final point is a Gaoyuan missed service return into the net.  Korea’s Woojin Jang (World No. 18) will play Fan Zhendong in the Semifinals tomorrow.  The other Semifinal match will be Ma Long versus Xu Xin.

 

Mima Ito upset the China Sweep in the Women’s event.  After  trading the first two games, Wang Yidi came from behind to win the third game 13-11 and gain the advantage.  But Ito dominated the fourth game to even the score, and was in control through the final three games.  It was a seven game match, but the final game was all-Ito as she coasted to an 11-5 win.

The other matches went as expected: Chen Meng over Solja 4-2, Sun Yingsha over Hyowon Suh 4-2, and Wang Manyu over Cheng I-Ching 4-1.  On Saturday, Chen Meng will face Sun Yingsha in the early match, and Wang Manyu will face Mima Ito in the second Semifinal.

Finals in both Men’s and Women’s matches will be on Sunday afternoon.

ITTF TV is following the matches via livestream.

Check in at ButterflyOnline.com starting Thursday for updates on the progress of this event and other events.

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The participating Men are: Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin, Ma Long, Harimoto, Lin Gaoyuan, Calderano, Lin Yun-Ju, Falck, Ovtcharov, Koki Niwa, Youngsik Jeoung, Pitchford, Franziska, Woojin Jang, Gauzy, and Quadri Aruna.  The participating Women are: Chen Meng, Mima Ito, Sun Yingsha, Wang Manyu, Cheng I-Ching, Feng Tianwei, Ishikawa, Wang Yidi, Polcanova, Doo Hoi Kem, Jihee Jeon, Hitomi Sato, Adriana Diaz, Solja, Miyu Kato, and Hyowon Suh.

Six of the eight first round matches were played on Thursday.  Fan Zhendong dominated Youngsik Jeoung 4-0 and the other top seeds followed the same pattern, Xu Xin over Quadri Aruna 4-0, Ma Long over Patrick Franziska 4-0, and Hugo Calderano over Liam Pitchford 4-0.  There were two close Day 1 matches – Mattias Falck led early after winning the first two games but ultimately needed all seven games to secure the win against Simon Gauzy.

The headline of the first day was Korea’s Woojin Jang who upset Tomokazu Harimoto 4-3.  Harimoto dominated the first two games, and split the next two – leading 3-1.  Harimoto then led 10-8 in the fifth game but could not close out.  A forehand miss by Harimoto, and then a big forehand winner by Jang left the score tied.  Jang then had a lucky forehand recovery for a winner and in the final point Harimoto’s final backhand floated long.  Harimoto never recovered – the final two games went to Jang in dominating fashion (11-2, and 11-5).  See the video highlights of the match below.

On the women’s side, Cheng Meng was pushed by Miyu Kato but pulled out a 4-2 win.  Mima Ito overcame Doo Hoi Kem 4-1. Petrissa Solja upset Feng Tianwei 4-2.  Korea’s Hyowon upset Kasumi Ishikawa 4-1.  Sun Yingsha, Wang Manyu, and Wang Yidi each coasted to 4-0 wins to make sure that one Chinese player is in each of the Quarterfinals.  And Cheng I-Ching overcame Puerty Rico’s Adriana Diaz 4-1.

Two men’s first round matches are scheduled for early Friday along with the Women’s Quarterfinals.

ITTF TV is following the matches via livestream.

Check in at ButterflyOnline.com starting Thursday for updates on the progress of this event and other events.


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