Men’s World Cup Recap: Fan On Top
(by Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)
The Chengdu Airlines 2019 ITTF Men’s World Cup concluded today in Chengdu, China. The format at the World Cup is for the top 8 qualifiers to advance to knock out rounds to face the top 8 seeds. USA’s Kanak Jha finished second in his group to advance and the other qualifiers included Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Daniel Habesohn, Sangsu Lee, Quadri Aruna, Kristian Karlsson, Simon Gauzy and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran.
Jha built a 3-1 advantage over Brazil’s Hugo Calderano in their epic battle in the Round of 16 (details here), but Calderano won three in a row for the come-back win. Calderano was one of the seven seeded players to advance to the Quarterfinals. In fact, the only qualifier to win in the knock out round was Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the former World No. 1 who has now recovered from injury.
There was only one upset in the Quarterfinals pairings – Hugo Calderano fell to Taiwan’s Lin Yun-Ju 4-1. It is worth noting that the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals were played on the same day – and only Calderano played a grueling 7 game match earlier in the day. In the other Quarterfinals, top seeded Fan Zhendong took care of Timo Boll 4-1, Ma Long dominated Ovtcharov 4-1, Harimoto edged out Koki Niwa 4-3.
In the Semifinals, Fan Zhendong won four straight over Lin Yun-Ju. In the other Semifinal, Tomokazu Harimoto upset Ma Long by winning the first three games and then holding on for a 4-2 victory. Harimoto continued his fast start by building a 2-1 lead over Fan Zhendong in the Final, but Fan won the final three games to take the title. Zhendong over Harimoto 4-2 (-9, 4, -6, 8, 2, 7).
This tournament went very much by design with nearly every match going to the higher seed. There were only three upsets in the Knock Out rounds (Ovtcharov, Lin, Harimoto) and each of those players lost in the next round. If you extend this into the preliminary rounds, only two players advanced unexpectedly – India’s Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Austria’s Daniel Habesohn were each seeded third but managed to advance. *Both lost their first match in the knock out round.
Overall, this was another great win for World No. 1 Fan Zhendong. But Fan likely needed this win to maintain the top position in the December rankings as his points lead over Xu Xin is only 90 points (16250 to 16160). Harimoto had a nice win over Ma Long – there is only one place between them in the rankings (World No. 4 and World No. 5), but there is nearly a 1500 point difference between those rankings (and Ma Long is only 1300 points behind the No. 1 position). Successes in this elite of a field aren’t limited to the top seeds: Gnanasekaran scored two upsets in the preliminary rounds just to get to the Round of 16, Habesohn upset Samsonov to advance, and Lin Yun-Ju scored a solid win over Calderano. And Kanak Jha was seeded 16th entering the tournament – and despite not advancing beyond the Round of 16, he came a bounce or two from the World’s No. 6 Ranked player. Kanak and Hugo have played each other many times with Hugo proving to be overpowering in most of those wins. Kanak Jha showed solid tactics, solid execution, and most importantly solid improvement against one of the world’s elite players.
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