(by Steve Hopkins, photo ITTFWorld)
The Knock-out Rounds of the Dishang 2020 ITTF Men’s World Cup came to a close Sunday. Of the 21 elite players who qualified, othe final four were Fan Zhendong, Jang Woojin, Tomokazu Harimoto, and Ma Long.
The first Semifinal was Harimoto and Ma Long. Ma Long started fast, logging the first game quickly 11-7. But Harimoto turned the script early in the second game – a run that continued until Harimoto held a 3-1 lead in games. Through that point, Harimoto’s play was sharp, a combination of quick and lot shots taken just off the bounce and precisely placed and then using his whole body to generate powerful shots from both sides when needed. Ma Long was consistent and strong, controlling the pace early in most points – but the unexpected variation in speed and angle by Harimoto had been the difference. That difference ended in the fifth game, as aggressive play by Ma Long created a little separation to a 4-2 lead that ma Long carried to an 11-8 win. Ma Long started fast in the sixth game, winning the first 4 points and he coasted thereafter – leaving the game score tied at 3-3. Interestingly, Harimoto took a seat between games – clearly tired and taking his coaching while resting. The final seventh game started tight, but after Ma Long pulled ahead at 5-3, the wheels came off for Harimoto. The final six rallies of the game ended with a Harimoto miss. He went cold at just the wrong time. Ma Long pulls from behind to win 4-3.
By world ranking, the second Semifinal matchup should be one-sided. Fan Zhendong is at the top of the rankings, and his opponent, Jang Woojin, had to fight through a group qualifier and execute two upset wins just to make it this far. The two players were tentative early on and there was no real separation until two misses gave Fan Zhendong an 8-5 lead. Fan went on to win the first game 11-5. The pace quickened in the second game, but again – Fan found separation at 8-6 and didn’t falter extending his lead in games to 2-0. Jang scored the first 5 points of the third game, but Fan reeled him in, finally tying the game at 9-9 and then pulling out the 13-11 win. The final game followed the earlier script, with Fan pulling ahead in the middle and then carefully managing that lead through to the end. A 4-0 ticket to the Finals for Fan Zhendong.
The Final was between the top two seeds – a matchup that has occurred in the Finals and Semifinals of major events for the last several years. Like most of the previous meetings, this one did not disappoint – a 7 game Final with the winner determined in the last few points.
Ma Long scored the first 4 points of the first game and coasted to a 11-3 win. Ma Long held an early lead in the second game – but this time Fan’s backhand helped to even the score at 4-4. After that, the players traded points until Fan pulled ahead at the end for the 11-8 win. The third game saw Fan with the early lead of 5-1. He never looked back, dominating throughout and winning easily 11-3. In the fourth game, Fan pulled ahead in the middle and then dominated the second half of the game for the 11-5 win and the 3-1 lead. It was all Ma Long after that – winning 4 points in a row across the middle of the fifth game to win, and then winning the first six points of the sixth game to set up an easy win and to even the game score at 3-3.
The seventh game had everything that you would expect – long rallies, tight scoring throughout and some of the best shot making in the world from both sides. Fan established a slightly lead at 5-3, just to see it evaporate into a 5-5 tie. Fan then answered winning the next two points with aid of a net. With that cushion, he turned up the heat going for three winners in a row to Ma Long’s forehand – hitting two and missing one. This left the score 10-7 – where Fan went for three big ending shots on the next three points, missing 2, and then landing the third for the title. Fan wins.
ITTF TV is following the matches via livestream. The Final is scheduled for 7:45p local time (6:45a Eastern Time).
Check in at ButterflyOnline.com starting Thursday for updates on the progress of this event and other events.