The Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Grand Finals were held in Incheon Korea this week. The event featured 16 Men and 16 Women with the qualification based upon World Ranking for those who have played at least five World Tour events in 2018.
As one would expect, the list of entries is as elite and exclusive as any event this year. The men’s event featured nine players from the current Top 10 in the World Rankings. The women’s event included all ten from the Top 10. The seedings were not based on the World Rankings, but instead were based upon accumulated points from World Tour events. This did create some interesting differences at the top of the men’s event, with Xu Xin seeded first despite being No. 2 in the World behind Fan Zhendong (who is second in the tour standings). China’s Liang Jingkun was seeded third based upon his tour standing, though he is not in the Top 10 in the World Rankings. Woojin Jang of Korea was seeded fifth based upon a tour win this year as well, though also not in the Top 10 in the rankings. In the end, taking 16 of the top 25 players in the world makes for a great event regardless of the seedings. Still, the advantages normally afforded to the top players with the most appearances were not present for this event.
Many of the tour events this year have ended with finals that featured the top two seeded players (or two of the top four seeded players) – that was not the case. This last major event of the year was filled with surprises. To begin, both Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin fell in the Quarterfinals, so the Semifinals (and Finals) would be without the top two players in the world.
Xu Xin did win in the first round, defeating Won Chun Ting 4-1 before the upset. That upset came at the hands of Chinese Butterfly player Lin Gaoyuan 4-2 sending Gaoyuan to the semifinals. Fan Zhendong also won his first-round matchup again Japan’s Koki Niwa 4-0. But in the second round, Brazil’s Hugo Calderano jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Zhendong and then split the remaining four to hold on for a 4-2 win to gain his spot in the semifinals.
Timo Boll was dominated by China’s Liang Jingkun 4-0 in their opening round match. Jingkun then fell to Japan’s Jun Mizutani 4-2. Mizutani moved on to face Lin Gaoyuan in the semifinals. Tomakazu Harimoto, the youngest entrant, won two matches 4-1 to join Calderao in the other semifinal.
In what would normally be expected to be a No. 1 versus No. 3 semifinal, we instead had Gaoyuan/Mizutani (No.6 v. No.8). And in the other half of the draw where we would expect to find No. 2 versus No. 4, we instead had Tomakazu v. Calderano (No. 4 versus No. 7). Unlike many of the earlier results, at this stage the two higher rated players were dominant. Lin Gaoyuan defeated Mizutani 4-0 and Tomakazu Harimoto defeated Calderano 4-0.
This pitted Gaoyuan versus Harimoto in the final. Harimoto was the higher seed in the event because of his better results on the World Tour, but in the World Rankings they are actually 4 and 5 (with Gaoyuan one spot higher). Harimoto jumped out to an early lead with an impressive 11-4 win in the first game. The following four games were all decided by 2 points, however on this day Harimoto bested his opponent by winning three of the four close games. Harimoto over Gaoyuan 4-1 (4, -13, 9, 9, 9).
Not to be outdone, the Women’s Event also finished without any of the top three in the world in the final. World No. 1 Zhu Yuling and World No. 3 Kasumi Ishikawa both fell in the quarterfinals and World No. 2 Ding Ning lost in the semifinals. Despite the early losses of some of their best, China fared very well overall – six of the final eight players were Chinese and both the semifinals and the finals were all-China affairs.
The surprise of the tournament was He Zhoujia who is currently ranked No. 50 in the world, but who managed three straight upsets (4-0 over Korea’s Hyowon Suh, 4-3 over Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa, and 4-2 over Ding Ning). However, He’s run ended in the final where she fell to Chen Meng 4-1.
This closes out the 2018 calendar for major tour events. The Thailand Open and the US Open are the last two events on the calendar for December. The tour will take a short break for the holidays, but will be back with the Hungarian open late in January.