(by Steve Hopkins)
Since 2019, Fan Zhendong and Ma Long have faced off in 5 major tournament Finals. In those meetings, Fan Zhendong had won three of the four previous meetings. That is why even in an event like the Singapore Smash that finished today, with a highly competitive list of entrants encompasing nine of the world’s top 10 ranked players, its no surprise that World No.1 Fan and World No.2 Ma reached the Final. And its also no surprise that after a very close 4-3 victory, Fan has now won four of the five match-ups against Ma in major event Finals.
While many in the USA were watching March Madness and waiting for the field to narrow to the Final Four – the final four were already battling away in Singapore. Fan Zhendong topped Japan’s Yukiya Uda 4-2, and Ma Long breezed past Liang Jingkun 4-0. For Ma Long, there were two close games (at 9 and 8) but also two non-competitive games – the result was never in doubt. The Fan/Uda match was much closer with Fan winning the first game at 9, the players trading games at 7, and then three more 2-point victories of which Fan won 2 of the 3. It was a surprise for the World No. 49 ranked Uda just to advance that far – but he was really just a net or an edge away from a very entertaining seventh game.
In the Final, Fan won the first two games easily (11-6, 11-6). But it was Ma Long that dominated for the next 30 minutes running off three wins in a row (and led 6-3 in the seventh game). Fan then buckled down and played the final games almost without any mistakes – focusing largely on Ma Long’s backhand. 4-3 Fan: No. 1 over No.2 narrowly. The video of the match is shown below.
The Women’s Final was Chen Meng over Wang Manyu 4-3. Manyu topped Sun Yingsha 4-3 in one Semifinal and it was Chen Meng over Wang Yidi 4-3 in the other Semifinal. That series of tight 4-3 matches was a welcomed change over the lopsided 3-0 and 3-1 Quarterfinal matches. In the end, China dominated – winning all four Quarterfinal Matches, and with the final two days of entertaining play just between Chinese participants.
The stories of the tournament are likely still the upsets. USA’s Kanak Jha topped World No. 4 Tomokazu Harimoto in the opening round, Xu Xin fell to Patrick Franziska in the Round of 16, Yukia Uda beat Timo Boll in the Round of 32 and then made his run all the way to the Semis, and and on the women’s side, the top player we all missed in the Semis was Mima Ito who fell to France’s Jia Nan Yuan in the Round of 16.
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