WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 3: Women’s Singles seeds 5 THROUGH 8
This post is the third post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered two X-factors in the tournament: Lily Zhang in the women’s singles and An Jaehyun in the men’s singles. An X-factor is a young, exciting but lower ranked player who has the potential to upset some higher ranked players in the tournament and make a deep run. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.
The full list of players set to play at WTT Doha appears to now be set in stone. In today’s post we take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the women’s singles event (Jeon Jihee, Feng Tianwei, Miu Hirano, and Kasumi Ishikawa) at WTT Doha, how they’ve played since the ITTF restart after the pandemic, what is at stake for them at Qatar, and their potential quarterfinal match-ups. The players in the top 20 of the world rankings who will participate in the WTT Star Contender event (the second one scheduled from March 8-13) are:
Out of these eleven, everyone but Jeon Jihee, Sofia Polcanova, and Petrissa Solja will also play the WTT Contenders (the first one scheduled from March 3-6) tournament.
8th Seed Jeon Jihee
As we will discuss shortly, Jeon’s quarterfinal match will likely have minimal seeding implications for Tokyo. However, this tournament will still be an important milestone in her campaign for an Olympic medal. If the Olympics were held today, Cheng, Ito, and (if selected to the Chinese team) Sun and Liu would also be among the top four seeds at the Tokyo Olympics, so Jeon’s quarterfinal match in Qatar will also be a potential Olympic quarterfinal preview.
Jeon has never played Cheng in ITTF competition, and winning a matchup in Qatar in what would likely be their only encounter in an ITTF event before the Olympics would give Jeon the mental edge in Tokyo. Jeon has lost to Sun all three times they have played in international competition, most recently at the 2020 World Finals. In their 2020 matchup, Sun largely dominated Jeon’s shots to Sun’s elbow with crisp blocks and hard step around forehand counters. In a future matchup with Sun, in order to have a chance Jeon likely needs to either figure out a way to bother Sun more at the elbow (which foreign players largely struggle to do against Chinese player) or more consistently hit in difficult wide-angle winners like in the point below.
Jeon has played Ito in two four out of sevens in international competition and lost both times, including a recent 4-1 loss post-pandemic at the 2020 World Cup. However, the match was closer than the score may indicate, especially when considering that Jeon struggled quite heavily with returning Ito’s serves. Jeon may be hoping to get another chance to figure out Ito’s serves before a potential quarterfinal match-up in Tokyo. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Ito to be the most exciting quarterfinal opponent for Jeon.
Jeon is currently ranked #15 in the world, and if the Olympics were held today, she would be the eighth seed (behind the two unconfirmed Chinese players, Mima Ito, Cheng I-Ching, Kasumi Ishikawa, Feng Tianwei, and Doo Hoi Kem). Jeon can pass Doo in the world rankings by reaching the semi-finals, but for the purposes of Olympic seeding it would not make much of a difference as seeds five through eight are typically treated equivalently.
More important for Jeon is to avoid being passed by Sofia Polcanova and falling out of the top eight for Tokyo; this should be a low bar for Jeon to clear as even if she suffers a relatively big upset in the round of 32 and Polcanova outperforms her seeding and reaches the quarterfinals, Jeon will still maintain a slim lead in the world rankings come April. Even if Polcanova makes a deep run to the semifinals, a quarterfinal finish by Jeon, meaning that she played to her seeding, will be enough to keep her just ahead of Polcanova in the April rankings.
7th Seed Feng Tianwei
Feng Tianwei’s post-pandemic performance has been relatively disappointing so far, being upset by Lily Zhang (WR #30) in the world cup (whom Feng later beat at WTT Macau) and Petrissa Solja in the Grand Finals. At age 34, Feng has slowed down a bit even compared to a couple years ago and had trouble keeping up with Zhang in the faster and longer rallies at the world cup. However, as arguably the greatest non-Chinese player over the last decade, her mind still remains sharp as she can still win shorter points by hitting sharp angles to where the opponent is not expecting or able to reach.
Feng currently holds a world ranking of 12 and would be the sixth seed if the Tokyo Olympics were held today. The stakes for Feng are similar to those for Jeon: Feng is almost certainly locked into a fifth to eighth seed in Tokyo, but despite the lack of stakes with regards to seeding, WTT Doha will provide Feng with perhaps her final look at Sun, Ito, Liu, or Cheng before potentially facing one of them in the quarterfinals in what will likely be Feng’s final Olympic games. This would be particularly valuable for Feng since she did not get to play any of these top seeds in international competition since the post-pandemic restart due to her upsets against Zhang and Solja.
Feng’s upset over Liu Shiwen more than ten years ago at the 2010 World Team Championships remains arguably the most iconic moment of Feng’s career, and it would be fun to see a vintage rematch between Feng and Liu for old time’s sake. The two have not played each other since the Korean Open five years ago, which Liu won 4-1. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Liu to be the most interesting quarterfinal opponent for Feng.
6th Seed Miu Hirano
Hirano has had a rough last couple of years, including losses to Hina Hayata (WR #29), Lily Zhang (WR #30), and Han Ying (WR #22). She did not participate in either the post-pandemic World Tour Finals or the World Cup in the Fall of 2020. Fans caught a brief glimpse of Hirano in the 2021 Japanese national championships this January, but she lost 4-0 to Miyuu Kihara (WR #49) in the round of 16.
Hirano is the highest ranked player in this tournament who is confirmed to not play in the Olympic singles in Tokyo (although Liu Shiwen or Sun Yinghsa may eventually join this list). However, Hirano will be playing for Japan in the team event, in which China and Japan are expected to meet in the finals barring a herculean performance from a star from a third country.
If China sends the same squad to Tokyo that they did to the 2019 World Team Cup, a quarter-final between Hirano and Liu could be both a rematch of Liu’s dominant 3-0 win over Hirano at the 2019 World Team Cup and a potential preview of the Olympic team finals. Although Liu appeared to handle everything Hirano threw at her in their match at the 2019 World Team Cup, Hirano showed a brief flash of competitiveness in the second game and will likely hope to maintain that performance through five games in Qatar (recall quarterfinal matches will be three out of fives).
Another potentially more interesting quarterfinal match-up for Hirano would be with Sun Yingsha. This would also be a potential preview for the Olympic finals in the team event, and if Hirano plays the role of spoiler and defeats Sun in the quarterfinals, she may end up providing the difference needed for her national teammate Mima Ito to take the number two spot both in the world rankings and in Olympic seeding. Also keeping things interesting is that Sun and Hirano have never played each other in any international women’s event (though Sun has previously beaten Hirano in junior competition). Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Sun to be the most interesting quarterfinal opponent for Hirano.
If Hirano faces Cheng I-Ching in the quarterfinals and pulls off an upset, that would also help her teammate Kasumi Ishikawa in the race for the fourth seed in the Olympic women’s singles event. However, it would likely be more compelling both for the fans and for Ishikawa if Ishikawa herself gets the chance to face off against Cheng in the quarterfinals.
Even if Hirano is unable to pull off an upset in the quarterfinals, Qatar provides her with a chance to break her string of recent losses to lower ranked players, and if she avoids being upset and bows out in the quarterfinals in both events, she will still be able to reestablish herself as a top ten player in the April world rankings.
5th Seed Kasumi Ishikawa
Ishikawa had mediocre results in the Fall of 2020 after the pandemic restart. She split a pair of matches with Suh Hyowon (WR #21) in the world cup and grand finals and then was slaughtered by Sun Yingsha at the world cup. Similar to the case with Jeon, it looked like Ishikawa’s shots to the body barely bothered Sun, and she needed difficult wide angle winners to score points.
2021 has started better for Ishikawa as she defeated Mima Ito to win the Japanese National Championship for the first time in five years. Ito was actually leading 3-1, but Ishikawa played incredibly well to stage the comeback, countering many of Ito’s signature fast smashes back with good speed and placement as seen in the first two points of game 7 (shown below).
Ishikawa is within striking distance of Cheng I-Ching on the world rankings list; by April, the 2020 ranking points will be weighted such that Ishikawa will trail Cheng by 360 points. There are up to 1000 points up for grabs at WTT Doha. If she can pass Cheng then she will secure a top four seed at the Olympics, presenting her with a path to an Olympic medal without having to defeat a Chinese player.
The situation favors Cheng, because as a top four seed in Qatar, she has a guaranteed path to the semi-finals without playing any of the higher ranked Sun, Ito, or Liu. If both players play to their seeding, then Cheng will extend her world ranking lead over Ishikawa. In order to pass Cheng, Ishikawa likely needs to reach the finals in both WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender.
Despite Ishikawa’s recent win over Ito, she may be hoping for a quarterfinal match-up with Cheng in both events in Qatar, as such a draw would give Ishikawa the most control over her seeding at the Tokyo Olympics. Even if Cheng loses in the quarterfinals (whether to Ishikawa or someone else), Ishikawa will likely either need to make it to the finals or outperform Cheng in another tournament between now and Tokyo in order to secure the fourth seed in the Olympics; however, a Cheng vs Ishikawa quarterfinal may be as close to a play-in for the fourth seed as we can get. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Cheng to be the most interesting quarterfinal opponent for Ishikawa.
The Most Interesting Quarterfinal Draw
Assuming everyone plays to their seeding up to the quarterfinals (which will likely not be the case), in summary here are Edges and Nets’ picks for what would be the most interesting draw:
- Kasumi Ishikawa vs Cheng I-Ching
- Miu Hirano vs Sun Yingsha
- Feng Tianwei vs Liu Shiwen
- Jeon Jihee vs Mima Ito
If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over the list of men who are ranked in the top 20 who have entered the tournament and will take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the Men’s Singles event. It will be posted on Wednesday, February 17 (North American timezone).