(By Steve Hopkins/Photo courtesy of ITTF)
The Liebherr 2019 ITTF World Table Tennis Championships is in Budapest, Hungary this week (April 21-28). Events include Singles (Men’s, Women’s) and Doubles (Men’s, Women’s, Mixed). The early action was in Doubles as well as the Singles preliminary group rounds. Singles knock-out rounds that began on Tuesday have quickly reduced the size of the field to just the World’s best.
Jennifer Wu, the last American in the tournament, finally succumbed on Wednesday morning. Jennifer had won both matches on Tuesday, logging wins over Maria Malanina of Russia (4-1) and Irina Ciobanu of Romania (4-2). Despite a great showing, World No. 13 Hitomi Sato proved too strong and Jennifer fell 4-0 (7, 7, 7, 12). Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz also fell on Wednesday, losing to the tournament’s top seed Ding Ning 4-0. And Canada’s Mo Zhang was eliminated by Japan’s Miu Hirano 4-2.
As the field narrows, the names of the players are more and more familiar. Thursday’s match-ups will feature some of the best-known names in the sport. Fan Zhendong will face Liang Jingkun in an All-China battle between two players who won major tour events in 2018. Hugo Calderano will face Ma Long. Jeoung Youngsik will face Lin Gaoyuan. Jang Woojin will face Timo Boll. And Sangsu Lee will face Mattias Falck.
That leaves three unexpected match-ups:
France’s Simon Gauzy upset second-seeded Xu Xin 4-2 today. Gauzy won the first game only to see the momentum change with Xu Xin dominating Game 2 and winning a close Game 3. But Gauzy didn’t fold – he ran off three wins in a row to close out the match. World No. 34 Gauzy over World No. 2 Xu Xin 4-2. Gauzy will now face another surprise, World No. 57 Wang Yang of Slovakia. Wang, one of the few defensive specialists in the field, dominated Liam Pitchford in his second match. Because of other upsets, Wang was favored in both of his other matches. Whether luck or skill (or both), he has advanced to the Final 16 and instead of facing one of the top seeds, his next round match with Gauzy will be a battle of underdogs.
Japan’s young phenom Tomokazu Harimoto has yet to lose a game in route to his round of 16 match, but he was expected to reach this stage easily. The surprise is Korea’s Jaehyun An who is ranked 157 in the world. Jaehyun qualified through group play as one of the lowest seeds. He has since upset Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting (World No. 14), Sweden’s Truls Moregard (World No. 153), and Austria’s Daniel Habesohn (World No. 29) on his way to his Round of 16 match with Harimoto.
Japan’s Koki Niwa is another high seed performing well, spreading just 2 lost games across his three match wins. But Niwa’s opponent in the round of 16 is much less known. Croatia’s 23 year old Tomislav Pucar has been slowing climbing the world rankings. He is current No. 58 in the World, a personal best that is up 15 spots already this year. Tomislav won a tough match over Germany’s Bastian Stegar (4-3), then beat India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta (4-1), and then overcame Dimitrij Ovtcharov (4-3).
Gauzy, Yang, Jaehyun, and Pucar all seek to continue their great showing. Check in tomorrow to see how these four “Cinderellas” can advance.
There are generally fewer surprises in Women’s Singles. Ding Ning will face Hyowon Suh in a match-up of World No. 1 vs. World No. 11. Soo/Hirano is No. 9 versus No. 41. The Kato/Chen match will be No. 22 against No. 24. The Kim/Liu match will be No. 5 versus No. 16. Ishikawa/Doo will pit No. 6 against No. 12. The tournament’s second seed Chen Meng will face World No. 10 Feng Tianwei. The Wang/Sato match will be No. 4 versus No. 13. Sun Yingsha (No. 21) will face one surprise, Hyo Sim Cha (No. 81). Hyo is the lowest seed left, but she has already pulled off two upsets in the tournament on her way to the final 16.
The next round will be Wednesday. The Quarterfinals will be played on Friday. The tournament will close this weekend with the Semifinals on Saturday, and the Final on Sunday afternoon.
Check in with ButterflyOnline.com for updates throughout the tournament.