(by Steve Hopkins)
The Knock-out Rounds of the Dishang 2020 ITTF Men’s World Cup are underway. Thirteen of the 21 elite players who qualified played a group stage and the top 8 advanced to face the top 8 seeds.
The first two matches in the Main Draw were Ma Long versus 22-year-old Slovenian Darko Jorgic and Dimitrij Ovtcharov versus Liam Pitchford.
At World No. 34, Jorgic was the lowest ranked player to make the Main Draw. Many might have expected he’d be overwhelmed facing Ma Long in China on this huge stage, but that was not the case. The Jorgic/Ma match was unexpectedly tight. In fact, with the game score 2-2, Ma Long had jumped out to a 4-0 advantage in the fifth game but felt a great deal of pressure when that lead evaporated. Ma Long was vocal, looking at his paddle and yelling at himself to get going – uncommon occurrences for this very calm champion. The score stayed tight with ties at 7-7, and 8-8. With Ma Long up 10-9, a short service return game Ma Long a smash to seal the game, but a quick reaction by Jorgic returned the smash as a winner and tied the score again. The next point was a long exchange that went in Jorgic’s favor, but Ma Long saved the point and went on to win the next two points.
Jorgic didn’t recover, so the result is as expected – with one of the World’s best overcoming the surprise qualifier 4-2. But the score was close, and Jorgic was very close to being up a game with momentum.
From a tactics perspective, Jorgic appeared to be purposefully attacking Ma Long crosscourt. He played most of his forehand attacks wider and wider on to Ma Long’s forehand, and the revers was true as well – with backhand rallies at steep angles wide pushing Ma Long wide. Jorgic played mostly a backhand serve landing in the middle and curving into Ma Long’s forehand – perhaps avoiding a strong backhand flip and encouraging a forehand to forehand rally. Jorgic’s serve returns were often long pushes to Ma Long’s forehand – again, a tactic that may have been designed to steer the rally to forehand versus forehand. In many matches in the past, Ma Long’s consistent attacks have overpowered other players in long rallies – that was not the case today with Jorgic, and many of the long rallies went to the Slovenian. A very entertaining first match of the Main Draw.
In other early action, Ovtcharov beat Pitchford, but it took 7 games. Harimoto swept Robert Gardos 4-0. Mattias Falck was pushed to the limit by Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong, with Falck needing to score 17 points in the final game to seal the 4-3 win.
The later matches in the top half of the draw will be underway soon.
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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