(by Steve Hopkins)
The first ITTF event of 2021 ended today with Dimitrij Ovtcharov’s dominating win over Lin Yun-Ju. With the Olympics just four months away, Ovtcharov showed he may be peaking at just the right time. In fact, his run to the this title, and its $15,000 purse, included consecutive upset wins over Falck (No. 8), Harimoto (No. 5), and Lin (No. 7). If an Olympics singles draw were held today, those same players would be seeded 3rd, 5th, and 6th – so this is exactly the type of performance that Ovtcharov needs to compete for a medal this July in Tokyo.
Ovtcharov played better as the tournament progressed. In his Round of 16 match with France’s Lebesson, Ovtcharov was pushed – with each of the first three games decided by only 2 points and Lebesson falling short in two of those games. In the next round Falck was just two points behind in the deciding fifth game before Ovtcharov pulled away. In the Semifinals, Harimoto’s quickness dominated the match through the first three games – with Ovtcharov down 0-2 and tied at 9-9 before recovering to win four consecutive games. That was probably the turning point, as Ovtcharov found his stroke and timing and by the end of the match was dominating with his power. Lin Yun-Ju’s style is similar to Harimoto, and Ovtcharov was able to continue his success as he won each of the first three games on his way to the 4-1 win.
Harimoto had a solid showing as well, defeating Taipei’s Chuang and Koreans Lee and Cho before falling in the Semis. No doubt that he’ll be working on his stamina between now and the Olympics – and he’ll expect to be in the running for a medal as well. Lin Yun-Ju was absolutely dominant until the final, so this is a good opening to 2021 for the young Taipei player as well. Calderano was likely disappointed with his performance – entering as the second seed but falling in the Quarters. Europe’s top ranked player, Mattias Falck was just one game short of the Semifinals (losing 2-3 to Ovtcharov). Simon Gauzy may have been the biggest surprise as the No. 20 player advanced all the way to the Final 4, including a win over World No. 6 Calderano.
The Preliminary Rounds are already under way for the next Middle East Hub Event – the WTT Star Contender. Qualifiers will need to win three matches to make the draw – and Karakasevic, Monteiro, Cifuentes, and Puerto Rico’s Daniel Gonzales have all won their first match. Check in often for updates as we move towards Monday’s Main Draw matches.
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