(By Steve Hopkins/Photos by Bowmar Sports)
A China Sweep, Sweden and England Headline for the Men and Two Koreas Show the Power of Sports
A week ago, when the excitement came to a close in Halmstad, Sweden, the results were very much as expected. On the men’s side, Germany entered the Liebherr 2018 World Table Tennis Team Championships as the top seed, but the World Rankings of the players had shifted since those seedings were made, and most expected China to win – they did, defeating Germany in the final. In the Women’s event, China and Japan were the top two seeds and they finished first and second as expected. But the tournament was deeper than just the final day, and many of the better story lines occurred in earlier rounds.
Germany’s featured players did not have great tournaments. Both Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov struggled with injuries. Each lost a match to a lower ranked player in the tournament, and each sat out many of the matches, leaving Germany without the one-two punch they had expected. The other players for Germany, however, played well with Ruwen Filus, Patrick Franziska, and Bastian Steger all playing more than expected and all holding their own. In their match against Sweden Franziska upset Kristian Karlsson to secure a 3-0 win, in their match with Brazil both Steger and Filus upset Hugo Calderano, and in a tight match with Korea where Ovtcharov was upset it was Patrick Franziska who stepped up to win the deciding final set over Youngsik Jeoung to secure the 3-2 win. There was more drama than expected, but Germany lost only one team match – and that was the Final against China.
Sweden and Korea landed the bronze medals. Korea leapt over Japan and France, moving up from the fifth seed in the tournament to finish tied for third. Their upset came in the quarterfinals when they defeated Japan before losing a close match with Germany. The bigger story was Host Sweden who entered the tournament as the ninth overall seed. In the group stage they upset Hong Kong (No.7), and in the knock out round they defeated Taipei (No.6) before winning the quarterfinal over England (No.12). Sweden ultimately lost to China in the semifinals – but not before creating a lot of excitement in front of their home crowd.
The other “Cinderella” of the tournament was England. They took all of the headlines on the second day of the tournament when they were scheduled to play the top two teams in their group on the same day – and won both. They upset Taipei (No. 6) in the morning, putting them in good shape to advance from the group into the knock-out rounds, and then in the afternoon they beat Japan (No. 3) to surprise everyone. Pulling off two of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the same day launched England (the 12th seed) all the way into the quarterfinals with a bye. They eventually lost to Sweden.
Team USA’s men competed in the second division. The advanced to the knock out rounds in the top half of that division, ultimately losing to the Netherlands in the round of 16 (placing in the top 36 teams in the tournament overall). Team USA performed well overall and Kanak Jha’s world ranking continues to rise – now World No. 72. Team USA finished No. 33 overall.
China managed to win the Women’s event with only three lost sets combined, spread out across all of their matches. They defeated Hong Kong 3-1, and then topped Japan 3-1. Second seed Japan was just as dominant as they advanced, ultimately defeating a unified Korean team 3-0 in the semifinal.
The biggest story of the tournament was the Unified Korean team. South Korea and North Korea were scheduled to play each other in the quarterfinals and in an act of good will and diplomacy, the delegations from the two countries petitioned the ITTF to combine the teams. This request was granted and the unified Korea team advanced to the semifinals to play second seeded Japan. There was much anticipation and coverage of the match, and all involved are hopeful that the political implications of this cooperation will be positive – but the competition itself included less excitement. Japan was in control from the beginning with a 3-0 victory in the opening set, and 3-2 victory in the second, and a 3-1 win in the final set. Still, the vision of the Korean teams standing together as a united group will be some of the most positive and lasting images of the event.
Team USA’s Women have advanced to the semifinals of the 13-24 knock-out rounds of the Championship Division (the bottom half of the Championship draw where the top finisher will be 13thh overall in the tournament). USA defeated the Czech Republic 3-2 in their opening round and then defeated Thailand 3-2 in the second round. They then defeated Poland 3-2 to complete their tournament on a high note. Lily Zhang’s World Ranking moved up to No. 53, and Jennifer Wu’s World Ranking now stands at No. 72. Team USA finished 13th overall.