(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 now narrowed to the final 8 players.
As the field narrows, the names of the players have become very familiar. The favored players in Thursday’s match-ups were Fan Zhendong, Koki Niwa, Hugo Calderano, Lin Gaoyuan, Tomokazu Harimoto, Timo Boll, Sangsu Lee, and Simon Gauzy. Today was a day of upsets, as only three of those favored players advanced.
The first match of the day was Fan Zhendong versus Liang Jingkun. At China’s qualifier “the Marvellous Twelve”, these were the top two finishers ahead of China’s best. It is not a surprise that both advanced to the round of 16, and it’s not a surprise that Jinkun didn’t fold under the pressure of playing the World No. 1. The match today began with a dominant opening game by Fan Zhendong, winning 11-5. However, the second game was a full reversal of fortune with Liang Jingkun winning 11-4. Jingkun then dominated the rest of the match winning three of the next four and sealing his spot in the Quarterfinals. The world’s number one player is out, and China has another young (22 year-old) and powerful player making his presence felt.
Japan’s Koki Niwa was a high seed who took care of business today. He was facing Croatia’s 23 year old Tomislav Pucar (World No. 58) who had pulled off a series of upsets including a win over Dimitrij Ovtcharov. However, Pucar was overmatched against Niwa – and it is Koki Niwa who will face Liang Jingkun in the next round.
As World No. 7, Hugo Calderano was the higher seed in his match against Ma Long. However, Ma Long is one of the most storied players in the history of our sport, and though his ranking has fallen as he has battled through injury, he has been in the finals of the last two tour events and is just off of a win at the Asian Cup. The result today was not unexpected – Ma Long over Hugo Calderano 4-1. After losing the first game, Ma Long won four in a row including two in dominating fashion (-8, 8, 1, 3, 8).
China’s Lin Gaoyuan will be Ma Long’s opponent in the Quarterfinals. Gaoyuan continued his dominant run with a 4-0 win over world No. 22 Youngsik Jeoung Gaoyuan has managed to spread out only 2 lost games in four match wins.
When the Draw was first released, many had pointed to one path to the Quarterfinals that featured Tomokazu Harimoto and Timo Boll as the highest seeds – looking forward to an epic battle of these popular players who are currently at No. 4 and No. 5 in the world. The path for both ended today against young Korean players. Harimoto fell to the biggest surprise of the tournament, Korea’s Jaehyun An (World No. 157). Jaehyun was a qualifier who upset Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting (World No. 14), and Austria’s Daniel Habesohn (World No. 29) on his way to face Harimoto. You can now add a 4-2 win over Harimoto (World No. 4) to his amazing tournament. Timo Boll was ill with a fever today and withdrew from his match sending Woojin Jang through as well. Woojin will face teammate Jaehyun in an all-Korea Quarterfinal, assuring Korea a spot in the Semifinals as well.
The other Korean player in the draw, Sangsu Lee (World No. 6) was favored in his match over Sweden’s Mattias Falck (World No. 16), but it was Falck who dominated the action. Lee won the first game 13-11, but Falck ran off four in a row to advance. Falck now faces off against France’s Simon Gauzy in the next round.
Simon Gauzy faced Wang Yang today in a battle of underdogs. Gauzy had pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament in the previous round by defeating second-seeded Xu Xin 4-2. And World No. 57 Wang Yang of Slovakia, the only defensive player left in the field, had defeated Liam Pitchford on his way to the Round of 16. In this match, however, Gauzy was the stronger player. Perhaps the rigors of the defensive style had already emptied the tank of Wang Yang – as this match was over almost as soon as it started. Gauzy took game one 11-0, and followed up with wins of 11-5, 11-4, and 11-8.
As we move into Friday’s matches – The highest seed remaining is Lin Gaoyuan (World No.3). Upsets to date have included losses suffered by World No. 1, World No. 2, World No.4, World No. 5, World No.6, and World No.7. Or to say that another way – only two players in the top eight seeds have advanced to the final eight in the tournament.
In stark contrast to the Men, Women’s Singles has fewer surprises. The top four women each advanced to the Final 8. These four Chinese players, Ding Ning, Chen Meng, Wang Manyu, and Liu Shiwen were each favored in their matches. The Women’s Quarterfinals were played on Thursday, and all four matches went to the favored player. That is, in the Women’s event the top four seeds are the final four players, and all four are Chinese.
With three of the Quarterfinal matches dominated by the top seed, there is not too much to report besides the name of the winner. But the fourth match between the tournament third seed Wang Manyu and an 18 year old rising Chinese player named Sun Yingsha could not have been much closer. Manyu won the first game 11-9. Sun then made her own statement in the second game by scoring two high-pressure points in a row after being tied 10-10. But the third epic game was the turning point. That 21-19 marathon was won by Wang Manyu, and Sun Yingsha did not recover immediately, falling behind early in the next game as well. In the fifth game, Manyu again built an early lead, but the momentum changed and Sun won 6 of the final 8 points to extend the match 11-9. Sun began the sixth game on fire, winning the first three points, but Manyu reeled her back in and eventually closed out the game and match. Third seeded Manyu joins the other top seeds in the Semifinals with a win much closer than the score (4-2: 9, -10, 19, 6, -9, 8).
The Men’s Quarterfinals and the Women’s Semifinals will be played on Friday. The tournament will close this weekend with the Men’s Semifinals on Saturday, and the Men’s Final on Sunday afternoon.
Check in with ButterflyOnline.com for updates throughout the tournament.