(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 tournament began with Doubles and Singles preliminary group rounds. Singles knock-out rounds that began on Tuesday have now narrowed to the final 4 players.
As the field narrows, invariably well-known top-seeded players are eliminated. This year, that elimination process was faster than most. Six of the top eight seeds were eliminated before the Quarterfinals, and as those matches played out today, neither of the two top seeds left were able to advance today.
The match between two Chinese champions Ma Long and Lin Gaoyuan was not the tight clash the many were expecting. Ma Long pulled ahead late in the first game to take the early lead and never looked back. He managed narrow victories in each of the first three games, and then closed out the match in the fourth. Ma Long over Lin Gaoyuan 4-0 (8, 9, 8, 4).
Liang Jingkun and Koki Niwa found themselves tied 10-10 in their first two games, and each won one game. Liang dominated the action in the next two games to take a 3-1 lead. Niwa then won two close games to tie the match. In the end, Liang Jingkun outdistanced his opponent, winning the decisive seventh game 11-5.
Liang Jingkun will now face Ma Long in one semifinal tomorrow. Ma Long is on a hot streak, not just in this tournament, but by making the finals in the last two tour events. But the last time these two players faced each other was in the Marvellous Twelve, and Jingkun won that match. The winner will be favored in the Final as these are the top two seeds remaining.
The other half of the draw has been full of upsets. This is the half of the draw where Xu Xin fell early to Gauzy. It is also the half of the draw where Harimoto and Boll and Sangsu Lee all fell in major upsets in the Round of 16. The highest seed of the four players remaining in this half of the draw was Woojin Jang of Korea and today he was slotted to face teammate Jaehyun An, the lowest seed remaining (World No. 157). Jaehyun An has really made a name for himself in this tournament, logging upsets over Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting (World No. 14), and Austria’s Daniel Habesohn (World No. 29) and Tomokazu Harimoto (World No. 4). It was a tight battle that culminated in a 12-10 victory in the seventh game, but upstart Jaehyun An can add a win over World No. 10 Woojin Jang to his amazing tournament.
The other two players to emerge in the bottom half of the draw, Mattias Falck and Simon Gauzy, can each point to an amazing tournament with unexpected results. Gauzy’s win over Xu Xin was the biggest upset of the tournament and Falck’s win over Sangsu Lee was dominating. Gauzy’s string of upsets ended today, with Falck starting strong and closing out the match quickly. Gauzy stayed close in a first game loss, and managed a 13-11 win in the second game. However, Falck was too strong in the final three games sealing a 4-1 victory.
The final four in Men’s Singles is Liang Jingkun versus Ma Long (seeds 9 and 11), and Mattias Falck and Jaehyun An (seed 16 versus an unseeded qualifier). What a great tournament for competition and parity – a tour event entering the Semifinals stage where all eight of the top seeds have already been eliminated due to upsets. The Semifinal matches will be played Saturday evening.
In stark contrast to the Men, the Women’s Singles have had fewer surprises. The top four women each advanced to the Final 8, and each of those top seeds won their match. These final four, all Chinese, were Ding Ning, Chen Meng, Wang Manyu, and Liu Shiwen. The Women’s Semifinal matches were played today, and there was one small upset. Liu Shiwen, the fourth seed, toppled Ding Ning to advance. Chen Meng prevailed easily over Wang Manyu. The Shiwen/Meng final will be on Saturday.
Check in with ButterflyOnline.com for updates throughout the weekend.