Mima Ito Discusses WTT Doha and Tokyo Olympics

Mima Ito appears to have recently created a stir among Chinese media by declaring to Japanese media that she has figured out how to beat potential Olympic opponents Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha. The timing comes right after China’s National Games Qualifier tournament. However, Chen did not participate in the event, and Sun only played doubles. Chinese fans are left guessing whether Ito is really onto something, or whether she is participating in so-called psychological warfare.

Note: we were unable to obtain the original source of the Japanese interview and are only relaying the reaction by Chinese media. If someone could share the original interview, it would be greatly appreciated.

Ito seems to be guessing that China will send Chen and Sun to play the singles event in Tokyo, but China has not yet released its roster. Based on recent comments made by coach Li Sun, there is speculation that China will instead send Chen and reigning World Champion Liu Shiwen, who appears to have fully recovered from the elbow injury that sidelined her during the second half of 2020, to play in the singles event.

At this point, interpreting Ito’s statement is like reading tea leaves, but is it possible that she is trying to bait China into not sending Sun, who is 6-1 against Ito since 2018?

Ito also recently wrote a brief article on some of her thoughts on her performance at WTT Doha. We produce a rough English translation below. Editor notes are in italics.

In WTT Doha in March, I won the single’s champion in two events (i.e. WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender). This tournament is different from previous ones, as the matches were only best three out of five until the quarter-finals. Because I don’t know what would happen under this format, I was very cautious throughout the tournament. Once I reached the stage where it was best four out of seven, I instantly felt relieved and could play comfortably.

Even though I wasn’t immediately playing my best starting from my first match (Ito squeaked by Britt Eerland 3-2 in her first match), my goal every day was simply to play to the level that I know I am capable of, and I slowly began to enjoy it. I feel that whether it is in table tennis technique or my mental game, I have become stronger in many aspects.

Different from last year’s world tour, WTT uses many different types of lighting, so the whole arena feels like a movie theatre. It made me feel very glamorous. Also different from the usual tournaments is that the barriers were very low, so it’s really easy to hit the ball outside of the playing area. The athletes also had to pick up the balls. Whenever I did this, I would start thinking, “if I take this path and walk around this way, I can get to the ball faster.” I would think about these things while playing the tournament.

Throughout these two competitions, I felt that winning the point during the first three shots was my main playing style (shameless plug: check out a similar observation Edges and Nets made in our finals analysis). When I win points through the serve and receive, I play with more excitement (unsure if this is the correct term. The original Japanese word appears to be ノリノリ).

I started gaining confidence in my serve when I won the German Open in March 2015, where I beat very high-ranked players (Ito beat Feng Tianwei, who was ranked number four at the time). I felt that my serves were very good, which made it difficult for my opponents to play aggressively.

At the time, I felt that as long as I could get the two points on my serves, it was enough. However, as I started playing these players more often, even if I won both my points on the serve, I would just return two points back to them on the serve return. Hence, I think both my serve and serve return need improvement.

I need to think carefully and come to a decision on whether to play international tournaments before the Olympics. Before WTT Doha, I did a lot of practice matches with many other players. I think this format is good as it gives the feeling of competition, but at the same time I can get some training in. I hope I can continue to use this method to prepare for the Olympics.

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Analyzing Jeon Jihee’s Evolving Service Strategy Against Mima Ito

As a medal contender at the Tokyo Olympics, Jeon Jihee has a chance to make Korean Olympic table tennis history this summer. The most recent Olympic singles medals for South Korea are Kim Kyung-ah’s bronze medal in the 2004 women’s singles event and Ryu Seungmin’s famous gold medal in the 2004 men’s singles event. No woman from South Korea has ever reached the finals in the singles event. Similarly, the last time South Korea won a medal in the women’s team event was in 2008, and South Korea has never reached the finals in the team event.

Jeon Jihee has a puncher’s chance at accomplishing all of these things, but there is one player who consistently stands in her way to Olympic glory: Mima Ito.

Jeon’s Path To Olympic Glory

The Path to a Singles Medal

In the women’s singles event, there are roughly three tiers of medal contenders. In the first tier are the two yet-to-be-named Chinese women, who will be heavy favorites regardless of their seedings (although both will likely be top three seeds). In the second tier is second seed Mima Ito, who is quite widely acknowledged as the single most dominant threat to Chinese supremacy in the women’s events. In the third tier are seeds four through eight, which in order of projected Olympic seeding are Cheng I-Ching, Feng Tianwei, Kasumi Ishikawa, Jeon Jihee, and Doo Hoi Kem.

Let us first make the somewhat reasonable assumption that nobody in the third tier is able to pull off what would be a historically unprecedented upset against either of the Chinese women (although a historic upset is always possible and Jeon has beaten Chen Meng before in T2). Jeon’s viable path to an Olympic singles medal without having to defeat a Chinese player is as follows.

As a top-eight seed, Jeon is guaranteed not to play anybody higher ranked than her until at least the quarter-finals. In order for her to have the best chance to medal, she has to hope that she can avoid the Chinese players in the quarter-finals by drawing either Ito or the fourth seed. If Jeon is able to upset both the fourth seed and Mima Ito in some order, then she wins at least a bronze medal.

While it is unclear how the Olympic seeding rules work out this year, there is a chance that the two Chinese players may end up on the same half of the draw, in which case if Jeon defeats the fourth seed and Ito, then she will reach the Olympic finals.

The Path to Team Glory

With Jeon’s presence and the rise of teenager Shin Yubin, who notched impressive wins over Miu Hirano and Miyuu Kihara at WTT Doha and steamrolled the domestic competition at the Korean Olympic trials, Team Korea looks to be at the very least a bronze-medal contender and arguably the bronze-medal favorite in Tokyo. However, Korea appears to have loftier expectations.

In a press conference on March 15 (English translation on TTD), Korean table tennis legends Ryu Seungmin and Kim Taeksoo said that they believe that Korea has a solid chance at upsetting Japan and taking the silver medal (Kim also believes that only Japan can reasonably challenge China) at the Olympics. This is a bold proclamation as Japan’s lowest ranked player, Hirano, is higher ranked than Korea’s highest ranked player, Jeon. However, Korea has pointed to recent encouraging signs in their favor, particularly Shin’s win over Hirano and Shin/Jeon’s doubles win over Hirano/Ishikawa at WTT Doha.

Korea is likely closely monitoring the progress of Choi Hyojoo and Shin Yubin before making any final lineup decisions. However, from their remarks, Ryu and Kim seem to be signaling that Jeon and Shin will be playing the doubles match and that Shin will be playing singles against Hirano or Ishikawa. 

If that is the case, then Choi will play a singles match against Ito, who Choi came close to beating at the 2019 World Team Cup, and Japan’s choice of Hirano or Ishikawa, and Jeon will play Ito in a critical singles match should the two countries meet in the semi-finals.

Given that Jeon’s finals aspirations in both the team event and singles event likely run through Mima Ito, should Jeon spend the next few months hyper-focused on Ito similar to the way that China appears to be?

What are Jeon Jihee’s chances of pulling off the wins that she needs?

Jeon appears to have reasonable chances of upsetting the fourth seed in the women’s singles event (who will likely be Cheng I-Ching, Feng Tianwei, or Kasumi Ishikawa). Since 2018, Jeon is 4-3 against Cheng, 2-3 against Feng, and has not played Ishikawa in international competition. As we saw in WTT Doha, there is also a sizable chance that the fourth seed is not even able to make it to the quarter-finals.

On the other hand, we also saw in WTT Doha that Mima Ito appears to arguably be heads and shoulders above the rest of the non-Chinese competition, including Jeon. Since 2018, Jeon is 0-4 against Ito, including two 4-1 losses since the pandemic. Jeon will almost certainly walk into Tokyo as an underdog against Ito.

Although Jeon has had an underwhelming history against Ito over the last couple of years, their last two matches have been closer than the 4-1 scores may indicate. Out of the eight games that Jeon has lost to Ito in the last several months, three have been heart-breaking deuces.

First, at the 2020 World Cup last November, Jeon was up 10-7 and then failed to convert on four game points in a row to lose 13-11. Then at WTT Doha in March, Jeon lost a deuce 17-15 after Ito got a critical net ball at 15-15 in the second game. In the fifth game, Jeon was again up 10-7 lead and lost six game points in a row, resulting in a 15-13 loss.

Given the closeness of some of these games, even marginal targeted adjustments against Ito may be enough for Jeon to tilt the game more in her favor and pull off the upset in Tokyo.

The Story of Jeon Jihee’s Service Strategy Against Mima Ito

Mima Ito’s Domination on the Serve Return

One adjustment to her game that Jeon has already made and may continue to make against Ito is in the service. Shown below are the last four game points that Jeon failed to convert in game five against Ito at WTT Doha as well as the only match point that Ito needed to win the match.

Over the course of five consecutive critical service returns, Ito manages to receive every serve with the short pips on her backhand and does whatever she wants to them to create an advantage for herself on the next shot. She lands three chiquitas of varying side spin, a fast straight backhand flick, and a strawberry flick.

Why is Ito able to so freely create whatever she wants when receiving the short ball? Part of the reason may be that she does not fully respect the threat of Jeon’s long fast serve to the backhand, which allows Ito to fully focus on being creative with the short receive. Can we quantify how concerned Ito is about the long serve to the backhand and by extension how little attention she can devote to the receive on the short forehand corner?

One rough proxy is the number of times she receives a long fast serve with her forehand. When Ito receives too many long fast serves to the backhand and feels like she is unable to create an advantage on them, she tends to step around and open using her forehand. If Ito has to plan to open her stance for a forehand loop and additionally move left if she’s stepping around, then in principle it should become more difficult for her to move into the table to the short forehand corner to receive a serve with the pips on her backhand.

In Ito’s 4-3 win against Hina Hayata at the All Japan National Championships in January, Ito attempted to receive 13 long serves with her forehand (note this number also includes Hayata’s long serves to Ito’s forehand). In her 4-2 win against Hayata at WTT Doha, that number was 16. In her 4-3 loss to Kasumi Ishikawa at the All Japan National Championships, that number was 5. What about in her 4-1 win over Jeon Jihee at the World Cup last November? Zero.

Jeon raised that number to three in Doha. Let us take a look at the adjustment she made to cause this change, and whether she should further adapt her service game specifically for Mima Ito like other top lefties appear to do.

How Other Left-Handed Stars Serve Against Mima Ito

Jeon may have already started to adapt her service pattern to be more in line with several other left-handed players who are strongly motivated to optimize their games against Ito: Hina Hayata, Kasumi Ishikawa, and Ding Ning. Hayata and Ishikawa should be deeply familiar with Ito since they compete with her for domestic as well as international titles. Ding Ning, along with the rest of China, is likely also hyper-focused on Ito as she is the single biggest threat to Chinese supremacy.

We show selected points in some of their matches against Ito in the past year. Note that these are all very important points in the match. For Hayata and Ishikawa, these are their last few serves in a seven-game thriller. For Ding, these are her last three serves in a 14-12 win during a pivotal third game.

Several things stand out. First, all three of them are willing to challenge Ito on the long serve, even if it means letting Ito step around for a forehand opening. Second, Ito doesn’t do anything too fancy against them when they do serve short. Third, when serving they all stand inside close to the middle of the table (as opposed to the more common position of standing behind the corner), which appears to give them the flexibility to execute serves short to the wide forehand or long to the wide backhand.

Hayata and Ding can go full games serving entirely behind the corner, even at 9-9, but they do serve from inside the table throughout the match, and it says something that when they need points the most, they opt to serve from inside the table. Moreover, while Hayata likes to serve from inside the table against everyone, Ding and Ishikawa are quite clearly serving more often from inside the table specifically because they are playing Ito.

To get a rough idea of how heavily Ishikawa changed her service game for Ito in the All Japan National Championships, consider the following numbers. In Ishikawa’s 4-3 win over Ito in the finals, Ishikawa served from inside the table 85 percent of the time. However, in her 4-2 win over Miyuu Kihara in the semi-finals, Ishikawa served from inside the table only 21 percent of the time.

In Jeon’s loss to Ito at the World Cup, Jeon didn’t serve from the inside the table even once. This is in line with her and Ding Ning’s typical service pattern: almost always serve from behind the corner and possibly break out a different serve from inside the table to introduce some surprises during critical points.

However, at least Ding and Ishikawa have both apparently decided that such a service pattern is sub-optimal against Mima Ito. Jeon seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as she heavily integrated more serves from inside the table at WTT Doha.

How Jeon Jihee Changed Her Serves At WTT Doha

Jeon Jihee notably started serving from inside the table against Mima Ito at WTT Doha in the second halves of Games 2, 3, and 5 after never doing so in the World Cup (she did, however, serve at least once from the center of the table in her 3-1 loss to Ito at T2 in 2019).

We caught glimpses of the potential advantages of using this serve. In the clip below, we see Jeon take a pair of points at 9-9 in the third game off two fast long serves to the backhand. Ito can only give a standard backhand flick return that is not particularly fast due to the short pips, which Jeon can take advantage of.

However, this serve is not a silver bullet to cure all of Jeon’s woes against Ito. Due to a combination of Ito’s brilliance and Jeon’s possible lack of familiarity with her own serve, some of Ito’s returns against this serve seemed to really catch Jeon by surprise. Jeon also may have signaled more information than she would like with her service stance; she was far more likely to serve fast and long to the backhand when standing inside the table. She can remedy this by serving to the short forehand from inside the table more often.

Jeon also almost certainly feels more comfortable with her usual serve from behind the corner. While she can surely execute her serve from inside the table perfectly during training, can she do it repeatedly when the pressure is on?

As seen in the first video clip in this post, to close out the match Jeon reverted to her normal serve from behind the corner even though Ito was having her way with them. Was this a tactical decision or was it because Jeon lost confidence in her ability to execute the serve well? Jeon did serve a long fast serve to the backhand from inside the table at 12-11, but Ito seemed to easily take advantage of it since the serve was predictable and/or not executed well.

It remains to be seen whether Jeon further integrates this serve into her matches against Ito in the future. At Doha, she only used this serve in the second half of a game and only if the score was within two or three points. This is roughly on par with (although possibly slightly less than) how often Hayata and Ding use this serve against Ito. Does Jeon want to fully adapt Ishikawa’s strategy in All Japan and essentially make this her default serve?

How Much Does Jeon Jihee Want Mima Ito To Step Around?

Counting the number of times Mima Ito receives a long serve with the forehand is always an interesting exercise. As mentioned earlier, the upside of Ito stepping around is that it means she can devote less attention to the short forehand corner. The downside is that it allows her to open with an aggressive shot.

However, a step around forehand from Ito may not be as scary as it sounds. Sure, if Ito knows exactly where the ball is going and has time to prepare, she can pretty much score an immediate winner with a fast wide smash to either corner. However, when she is on the move, not completely in position, and hitting it from a wide angle on her backhand corner, it is extremely difficult to go hard straight down the line to the left-handed server’s backhand.

The points shown below are quite illustrative of the risks and rewards of Mima Ito stepping around for the forehand opening on the serve return.

In the first point, Ito is only able to make a soft and somewhat predictable cross-court shot to Jeon’s forehand, and Jeon lands the strong counter-loop. In the second point, Ishikawa is waiting for the forehand counter, but Ito manages to get in position and land a smash to her elbow for the instant kill. In the third point, Ito prepares to step around, but Ishikawa serves short to the forehand, so Ito can only push with the forehand. Ishikawa loses the point, but she gets a desirable serve return from Ito.

No set formula exists for how often the opponent should want Ito to step around and take the forehand serve return opening. Even Ito probably does not know the optimal number. Hayata, Ding, Ishikawa, and Jeon (listed in order of willingness to challenge Ito’s long opening attack) have all tried various service strategies with varying degrees of success.

So far Ding has had the most success against Ito, but that can also be heavily attributed to the fact that she is Ding Ning. Meanwhile, Jeon has so far been the most conservative with the worst results (granted there are many other factors that account for her results), and it remains to be seen whether she will further adapt her strategy going forward.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated.

Unfortunately, ITTF has killed ITTV, meaning that past matches are no longer publicly available to watch. Hence, no blog posts are scheduled for the immediate future. You can check out past analysis posts here.

Liu Shiwen Elbow Injury Update

Edges and Nets’ Instagram account provided a brief update on Liu Shiwen’s elbow injury that required surgery and sidelined her through the second half of 2020.

You can watch some full matches of Liu Shiwen and other players at the Chinese National Games on the 247TableTennis Youtube Channel. These matches may very well be the only glimpse we get of the Chinese National Team until the Olympics since they have withdrawn from all international events until then:

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and follow Edges and Nets on Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter to stay updated.

Cover image taken from ITTF’s Flickr page, which sadly appears to no longer be active with the WTT rebrand.

How Dimitrij Ovtcharov Solved The Lin Yun-Ju Problem At WTT Doha

A guide to all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha (also known as World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub and formerly known as ITTF Qatar Open) can be found here.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov appeared to have a Lin Yun-Ju problem. Going into WTT Doha, Lin had won their previous four match-ups in international competition dating back to the 2018 Austrian Open and appeared to have virtually no problem attacking Ovtcharov’s famous serves or dominating Ovtcharov in the rallies.

However, with several key adjustments Ovtcharov actually came quite close to beating Lin in the ITTF Grand Finals in November 2020, but he fell just short, losing deuce in the sixth game. After adding in a few extra wrinkles to his game, Ovtcharov was finally able to snap his losing streak against Lin in the WTT Contender finals at WTT Doha witha 4-1 victory. We take a look at what adjustments Ovtcharov made to finally solve the Lin Yun-Ju problem on his fifth try.

Unfortunately, the video of the full match appears to have been removed from Youtube and to the best of our knowledge is currently publicly unavailable.

The Lin Yun-Ju Problem

We note two key reasons for Lin’s dominance over Ovtcharov in their previous matches. First is that although Ovtcharov’s serves are typically seen as one of his strengths, Lin has virtually no problem receiving Ovtcharov’s serves with very aggressive chiquitas that allow Lin to take the initiative on the attack. Second, Lin appears to be physically faster than Ovtcharov by a comfortable margin, allowing him to dominate in fast-paced counter-attack rallies as shown in the point below from their match in 2020.

Thus, Ovtcharov will almost certainly lose to Lin if he plays the traditional approach that most young kids are taught of trying to land the first opening attack and using the advantage gained from taking the initiative to dominate the ensuing rally. Ovtcharov cannot compete with Lin’s chiquita to open up more often than Lin. Even if Ovtcharov were able to open up first more often than Lin, Lin’s physical speed advantage could effectively neutralize the advantage Ovtcharov may gain in the rally from being the first to open.

The Solution: Ceding the Opening Attack

After losing quite handily in the 2019 Czech Open, one of Ovtcharov’s central and incredibly daring and innovative adjustments both in the 2020 ITTF Grand Finals and in WTT Doha was to almost completely cede the opening attack to Lin.

To get an idea of how willing Ovtcharov was to allow Lin to attack first, consider the following numbers. In their 2019 match-up, Ovtcharov attempted 36% of the opening attacks (whether make or miss) from either player. While Lin attempted a healthy majority of the opening attacks, this is still quite a reasonable number given his dominance in the chiquita.

In the 2020 Grand Finals, Ovtcharov attempted only 20% of the opening attacks, allowing Lin to open up a staggering four times more often than Ovtcharov did. Ovtcharov returned over half of Lin’s long or half-long serves with a push or defensive shot, a decision that would earn most young children a healthy punishment from their coach. For comparison, in their 2019 match-up, in which Ovtcharov played a more conventional approach, Ovtcharov attacked nine of Lin’s eleven long serves.

Ovtcharov continued this approach of pushing long serves in their match at WTT Doha, even doing so at game point and deuce as shown below.

Overall, in Ovtcharov’s victory at WTT Doha, he attempted a more reasonable 30% of the opening attacks. The uptick in attempted opening attacks can be explained by several factors. First is the statistical noise present in any sample size of roughly 100. Second, as we will see later, Ovtcharov appeared to intentionally mix in more attacks to catch Lin off guard more often.

Third is that Lin also made the observation that Ovtcharov was perfectly happy to let him attack first and adjusted his game accordingly. This could most clearly be seen in that he pushed several of Ovtcharov’s serves as opposed to rushing in for the chiquita. Lin virtually never made such a move in their matches in the 2019 Czech Open and the 2020 Grand Finals. This adjustment in turn allowed Ovtcharov to reveal just how happy he was to let Lin attack first; Ovtcharov simply pushed back Lin’s pushes and did not seem to mind if his own push ended up being long or even slightly high.

Why Cede the Opening Attack?

What does Ovtcharov gain from ceding the opening attack? After all, it often ends up with Lin immediately winning the point with a clean third-ball kill.

First is the obvious advantage that pushing is less error prone than attacking. In their two match-ups at the 2020 Grand Finals and WTT Doha 2021, Lin totaled 22 opening errors, while Ovtcharov only had 7. Over the course of 11 games, this comes out to just over one extra error a game for Lin. However, as Ovtcharov won two games in deuce in his 4-1 victory in Doha, this small advantage ends up mattering greatly.

However, Ovtcharov cannot just hope for Lin to miss 11 openings a game. The central advantage of ceding the attack appears to be that it counter-intuitively allows Ovtcharov to better dictate the pace and rhythm of the game. We can see this in a couple of Ovtcharov’s favorite go-to plays against Lin.

Go-To Play #1: Backhand or Elbow Pin-down Against the Chiquita

As shown in the two points in the video below, one of Ovtcharov’s favorite plays is to either serve or push short or half-long to Lin’s forehand and allow Lin to take a chiquita from the forehand. Ovtcharov then blocks down the line to Lin’s backhand or elbow, and Lin either misses the backhand or returns an extremely weak shot that gives Ovtcharov a massive advantage in the ensuing rally.

From this play, we see one big advantage of letting Lin attack first. Provided that Ovtcharov can to a certain degree anticipate the location of Lin’s first attack and avoid immediately getting killed, he is often firmly waiting in the position he wants to be at while Lin has to move his body further out both in the left-right direction and the shallow-deep direction in order to initiate the attack.

Thus, even if Lin knows that the ball is likely to go deep to his backhand on the next shot (which is not a guarantee if Ovtcharov plays with enough variation and keeps Lin guessing), he has a significant distance to cover and not much time (recall Ovtcharov is typically blocking down the line) to recover from his opening chiquita, neutralizing his physical speed advantage over Ovtcharov.

While Ovtcharov most clearly leveraged this positional advantage in the backhand pin-down against Lin’s chiquita from the forehand corner, it can also be seen in other points in the match, such as in the point below where Lin steps around for the hard forehand kill, but Ovtcharov correctly anticipates the location of the kill and blocks it wide to Lin’s forehand.

Go-To Play #2: Change In Pace

While Ovtcharov may have difficulty keeping up with Lin in terms of raw speed, he is able to throw Lin off rhythm by either going from a slow block to a fast counter or sometimes even a fast counter to a slower block as seen in the point below.

If Ovtcharov’s goal is to maximize change of pace, Ovtcharov may thus prefer to start from a position of blocking instead of a moderately fast opening attack as it allows him to switch gears more drastically. We can also see more clearly how Ovtcharov’s defensive approach actually makes his attacks more effective in several points where Ovtcharov performs a standard opening but appears to catch Lin off guard and win the point immediately.

Ovtcharov faces the standard trade-off where if he attacks too much, then his attacks are no longer surprising and he is unnecessarily playing into Lin’s game. This appears to have been the case in the 2019 Czech Open. However, attack too little and he is failing to exploit a quick and easy source of points. This appears to have been the case in the 2020 ITTF Grand Finals. Ovtcharov seems to have struck a nice balance of initiating the attack just under 30% of the time and pushing a little less than half of Lin’s long serves at WTT Doha. Of course, Lin may force a change in that number in their next match-up.

Extending The Bag of Tricks

One critical difference between Ovtcharov’s loss in the 2020 Grand Finals and his victory in WTT Doha is that in the 2020 Grand Finals, Ovtcharov lost a game 11-9 and a game in deuce, while in Doha, Ovtcharov won both the deuce games.

The change in results can arguably be attributed to luck or Lin playing slightly worse or Ovtcharov playing slightly better. However, Ovtcharov also helped himself in Doha by introducing new subtle tricks that allowed him to eke out the extra two games that he needed.

Perhaps the most clear addition to Ovtcharov’s bag of tricks was a new simple dead serve (Kong Linghui is another notable player to have used this serve) that was completely non-existent in his 2019 match with Lin. Ovtcharov was also hesitant to use this serve in their 2020 match until down 9-5 in the sixth game. The serve was effective enough for him to force the game to deuce.

In Doha, Ovtcharov was happy to use this serve much more frequently, even at deuce. It played well into his defensive approach to the game, and Lin was unable to do much against it as there was no spin or power to borrow. As mentioned earlier in this post, Lin chose to push the serve back in both the points shown below, but Ovtcharov felt comfortable pushing the ball back again to give the opening to Lin. The extra couple points won from this serve throughout the match helped give Ovtcharov the slight edge that he needed to take the two close games in the match.

What’s next?

Lin is now the front-runner over Hugo Calderano to take the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics. If Lin holds on to the fourth seed, a Lin-Ovtcharov quarter-final draw has a 25% chance of happening, Of course, both players need to also avoid getting upset in order for the match to actually happen. There is also a decent chance that these two could meet in a bronze medal match if Ovtcharov can replicate his WTT Contender performance against Harimoto and China continues to dominate. It is hard to say who would be favored in a match-up in the Tokyo Olympics.

On the one hand, Lin is higher ranked, has a history of defeating Ovtcharov, and appears to have a raw physical advantage in the fast rallies. Moreover, if Ovtcharov is really so eager to let Lin attack first, nothing is stopping Lin from just pushing the ball back more often. At the end of the day, as the one who initiates the attack, Lin in principle should have more control over the pace and rhythm of the game. Moreover, Ovtcharov’s tricks will lose effectiveness as their novelty wears off, and Lin is almost certainly training against the simple dead serve.

On the other hand, Ovtcharov almost certainly has more tricks saved up just for the Olympics, and he is likely to innovate more tricks and tactics over the next few months. Moreover, playing in the round of 16 in the ITTF Grand Finals or the finals of WTT Contender is a completely different animal from playing in a bronze-medal match at the Olympics.

Liu Shiwen has mentioned how critical the mental aspect of table tennis is and how her previous World Championship finals experience gave her the edge over Chen Meng in 2019. Lin is only 19 and has never played in any match as nearly as high stakes as an Olympic bronze-medal match. He may be the “silent assassin” when playing in a T2 or world tour event that, despite the prize money, in the grand scheme of things is quite meaningless, but we have yet to see him in such a big spotlight. On the other hand, this will be Ovtcharov’s third Olympics and he has already won a bronze medal in 2012, which may give him just enough of a mental edge to eke out a tight win.

We apologize for the delay in releasing this post as it took longer than anticipated to write. The next post is scheduled for Wednesday, April 7.

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Feng Tianwei Was The Biggest Winner At WTT Doha

Not the post you were looking for? A guide to all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha (also known as World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub and formerly known as ITTF Qatar Open) can be found here.

Mima Ito walked away from WTT Doha with 40,000 USD in prize money. Ruwen Filus walked away a fan favorite. Dimitrij Ovtcharov notched three signature wins under his belt. So who was Edges and Nets’ top pick for the biggest winner at WTT Doha? Feng Tianwei.

Why? In the grand scheme of things, WTT Contender and Star Contender events matter for basically two reasons only: amassing world ranking points to obtain better seeding at bigger events and using the competition to work out kinks in your game in order to peak at a bigger event. As it is still only March, we can’t take too much stock in how these performances will translate into the Tokyo Olympics in the summer, but the seeding implications are real and lasting.

Although WTT has been unpredictable regarding seeding practices so far, in general the higher your seed is entering the Olympics the better. At the time being, it appears safe to assume that the top eight seeds at the Olympics will be seeded appropriately as usual.

With that in mind, let us revisit the world ranking system, after which it will become apparent why Feng was the biggest winner from WTT Doha.

The World Ranking System

Each player wins a certain amount of ranking points at every tournament depending on how well they did and how prestigious the tournament was. For WTT Contender, the ranking point distribution is 400 points for the champion, 280 for the finalist, 140 for the semi-finalists, 70 for the quarter-finalists, 35 for losing in the round of 16, and 4 for losing in the round of 32. For WTT Star Contender, those numbers are 600, 420, 210, 105, 55, and 25 respectively. 5 points are also awarded for losing in the round of 64 in WTT Star Contender.

Under normal circumstances, a player’s world ranking point total is computed by summing up the points won over his or her best eight performances over the last twelve months. However, since there has been a hiatus in play due to the pandemic, the world ranking system is slightly different at the moment.

Each player has a certain number of world ranking points from 2020 that roll over into 2021. These world ranking points are slowly decaying until the end of the year, at which point they will completely expire. At the time of this writing (mid-March), they have decayed to 70% of their original value. By the Tokyo Olympics, they will have decayed to 40% of their original value. Your world ranking points are determined by adding up the points you have earned in 2021 with your decaying points from 2020.

For example, if you had 10,000 world ranking points in 2020 and earned 1,000 ranking points in 2021, then you would have 10,000*0.7 + 1,000 = 8,000 world ranking points now and 10,000*0.4+1,000=5,000 world ranking points by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around.

Although Edges and Nets has previously emphasized the April world rankings in our previews, the ranking list that really matters is the one used at the Olympics. Thus, in all our world ranking lists today and in the future, unless otherwise specified we will decay the 2020 world ranking points down to a factor of 0.4. This makes our rankings slightly different from the official ones posted by ITTF/WTT, but our world rankings will be slightly more relevant.

With that in mind, let us look at the current state of the projected top ten seeds at the Tokyo Olympics, from which we can see who was a winner and who blew some major opportunities at WTT Doha.

Women’s Singles Winners and Losers

We look at the rankings of the projected top ten seeds at the women’s singles event in the Tokyo Olympics. Since China has not yet announced who will play, we will look at both Sun Yingsha and Liu Shiwen on our rankings list. Wang Manyu, Zhu Yuling, and Ding Ning will be in a situation between Sun and Liu. That being said, China could likely not care less about Olympic seeding.

Although Edges and Nets was unable to obtain formal verification of this rule, based on our understanding the Olympics guarantee that two players from the same country will not meet until the finals. (Update: A commenter has pointed out that this may not necessarily be the case this year). Hence, since almost everyone would favor a top Chinese player over even Mima Ito, even if Liu Shiwen drops to ninth in the world, she will still be the de facto second seed.

Olympic SeedPlayer2020 Decayed PointsWTT Doha Contender PointsWTT Doha Star Contender PointsTotal Points
1Chen Meng7900007900
2Mima Ito63324006007332
3Sun Yingsha6560006560
3Liu Shiwen4890004890
4Cheng I-Ching46844554743
5Feng Tianwei423244204656
6Kasumi Ishikawa444035554530
7Jeon Jihee3656702103936
8Doo Hoi Kem3744003744
9Adriana Diaz353041053639
10Sofia Polcanova3584003584
Women’s Singles Projected World Rankings for Olympic seeding

Because China effectively has the top two seeds even though Ito is the second seed in name, the race for the top three seeds is not particularly interesting. However, the fourth seed is highly valuable as it guarantees a path to the semi-finals without having to play Ito or a Chinese player. The eighth seed is similarly coveted since it guarantees a spot in the quarter-finals without having to play Ito or a Chinese player.

Hence, Feng Tianwei is clearly the biggest winner coming out of WTT Doha. Going into Doha, Feng only had a puncher’s chance at the Olympic fourth seed. It looked like that chance had evaporated after Feng suffered a first-round exit in WTT Contender. However, Ishikawa and Cheng extended Feng a lifeline by each suffering early exits in both the WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender events.

Feng seized on this lifeline with a run to the WTT Star Contender finals that included a win over the massively underrated Hina Hayata, who also happened to help Feng out by defeating Ishikawa in WTT Contender and Cheng in WTT Star Contender. Feng has now passed Ishikawa outright on the projected Olympic seedings, and all Feng needs in the next WTT event (an event in China appears to be in the works) is either a major upset on her side or another collapse by Cheng in order for Feng to take complete control of the Olympic fourth seed.

As Feng is the biggest winner, by extension the biggest losers in the women’s singles events at WTT Doha are Ishikawa and Cheng. They each blew a chance to take full control of the fourth seed and allowed Feng to crash what should have been a two-way race.

Elsewhere in the ranking list, Jeon Jihee came out a minor winner and gave herself some breathing room to maintain a top-eight seed by for the most part playing to her seeding and avoiding losses to lower-ranked players. Although Adriana Diaz moved up on the rankings list following WTT Doha, it can be argued that she came out a minor loser at this tournament. Adriana Diaz had a chance to take advantage of Doo Hoi Kem’s absence and put herself in position to join the top eight seeds in Tokyo, but she squandered that chance by losing in the first round at WTT Contender.

Men’s Singles Winners and Losers

We now look at the top ten seeds in the Olympic men’s singles events. China has not yet announced who will play, but regardless of their selection the top two seeds at the Olympics are almost certainly going to be some combination of Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, and Xu Xin.

Olympic SeedPlayer2020 Decayed PointsWTT Doha Contender PointsWTT Doha Star Contender PointsTotal Points
1-2Fan Zhendong7396007396
1-2Xu Xin6904006904
1-2Ma Long6808006808
3Tomokazu Harimoto51961406005936
4Lin Yun-Ju48602802105350
5Hugo Calderano492670555051
6Dimitrij Ovtcharov42264002104836
7Mattias Falck46787054753
8Timo Boll4274004274
9Jang Woojin4234054239
10Liam Pitchford3884453893
Men’s Singles Projected World Rankings for Olympic Seeding

Update: A previous version of this post had incorrect ranking points added to Falck and Jang. This error has been corrected.

In the men’s event, there is no clear massive winner like Feng Tianwei. Instead, the biggest winner of the men’s singles event by default is Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

While Ovtcharov walked away with the WTT Contender title and appears to be quite happy that he has re-joined the top ten in the world rankings, from an Olympic seeding perspective not much has changed. In our tournament preview, we expected that a baseline level of play would be enough for Ovtcharov to take control of a top-eight seed in Tokyo and join the top ten in the world rankings list. Although Ovtcharov outperformed expectations and is now projected to pass a disappointing Mattias Falck, he is still firmly entrenched in the 5-8 spot in the Olympics as expected.

That being said, all Ovtcharov needs is for Lin and Calderano to pull a page out of Cheng and Ishikawa’s book in the next WTT event, and he may just be able to steal the fourth seed in Tokyo. However, Ovtcharov is still in a worse position than Feng was entering Doha since the next WTT event is likely to be in China. Even if only two Chinese players play, the odds of Ovtcharov pulling off a surprise finals run in China like Feng did in Doha drop astronomically.

Lin Yun-Ju is a minor winner considering that he passed Calderano for the Olympic fourth seed. However, Lin shouldn’t be feeling too victorious since with his losses to Ovtcharov and Filus, he blew a chance to really put some distance between him and Calderano.

The two major losers in the men’s singles events were Hugo Calderano and Jang Woojin. Calderano lost control of the Olympic fourth seed with a quarter-final loss to Simon Gauzy in WTT Contender and threw away his chance to take it back with a missed serve against Darko Jorgic at match point in the WTT Star Contender round of 16.

Going into the tournament, Jang appeared to be a slam dunk to pass Timo Boll in the world rankings and put himself in position to take the eighth seed in Tokyo. However, Jang was unable to notch even a single win and now finds himself still stuck as a projected ninth seed in Tokyo.

In summary, Edges and Nets’ final picks for winners and losers at WTT Doha are:

  • Major Winner: Feng Tianwei
  • Minor Winners: Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Lin Yun-Ju, and Jeon Jihee
  • Minor Loser: Adriana Diaz
  • Major Losers: Kasumi Ishikawa, Cheng I-Ching, Hugo Calderano and Jang Woojin

Our next blog post will be posted on Wednesday, March 24. Update: The release of the next post has been delayed by up to a couple days.

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Confident Tomokazu Harimoto Defeats Ruwen Filus 4-2 To Take WTT Star Contender Title

Not the post you were looking for? A guide to all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha (also known as World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub and formerly known as ITTF Qatar Open) can be found here.

Check out our finals preview as well: 6 Ruwen Filus Shots to Watch Out For In the WTT Doha Finals.

After falling into an 8-1 hole in game 3, Tomokazu Harimoto won 9 consecutive points to take a 10-8 lead for a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the WTT Star Contender finals against Ruwen Filus before a couple of errors from Harimoto and smart play from Filus cost Harimoto the game. Nevertheless, an unfazed Harimoto came back and played the next several games extremely confidently and aggressively to win the match 11-9, 11-9, 13-15, 11-5, 7-11, 11-8.

With the win, Harimoto takes the WTT Star Contender title at WTT Doha and the 600 world ranking points that come along with it. Combined with his previous lead and disappointing performances by Lin Yun-Ju and Hugo Calderano, Harimoto now appears to be in complete control of the third seed at the Tokyo Olympics. It was a great day for Team Japan as Mima Ito also defeated Feng Tianwei 4-1 to win the WTT Star Contender women’s singles title and cap off an undefeated run at WTT Doha.

It is a disappointing end for Ruwen Filus, but the final result does not take away from his amazing run at this tournament that included upsets over Jang Woojin (WR 12), Jun Mizutani (WR 18), Lin Yun-Ju (WR 6), and Darko Jorgic (WR 31). Filus’ run gave many fans hope that a defensive player could finally win a major men’s singles event again, but he fell just short.

Final results for all World Table Tennis events are available on their website.

Game 1

Harimoto opened the match putting a lot of pressure on Filus as Filus was unable to get many offensive shots in to start the game. As a result, Harimoto jumped to a 9-4 lead. However, Filus then busted out all the tricks in his toolkit: a floater, a step around forehand, a shovel, and twiddle and backhand loop to narrow it to 9-8. Filus landed in a floater wide to Harimoto’s forehand when down 10-9, but Harimoto was able to reach it for a hard forehand winner to take game 1 11-9.

Game 2

Filus started with an early 4-2 lead, but Harimoto leveled it to 4-4 thanks to some help from the net. Filus responded with an edge ball of his own, which sparked a 4-0 run as he landed two amazing attacks and fooled Harimoto with a serve. Down 8-4, Harimoto was the able to stem the bleeding by catching Filus out of position at the elbow. This sparked a 6-0 run from Harimoto as Filus seemed to have no answers. Down 10-8, Filus was able to take one more point to close it to 10-9, but then missed a floater to lose the second game 11-9 as well.

Game 3

Filus seemed to rattle Harimoto’s confidence to read his shots to start game 3 as Harimoto opened the game very push-happy. Filus was able to take advantage and built up a large 8-1 lead. However, a beautiful rally at 8-2 by Harimoto helped spark a 4-0 run, prompting Filus to call time-out up 8-5. Harimoto then got a net ball immediately coming out of the time-out, and then Filus missed a pair of forehand loops to level it at 8-8. Harimoto was able to win a couple of chopping exchanges to put himself up 10-8, but then missed two of his own loops to make it deuce. A lucky ball, a floater, and two nice chopping exchanges were enough for Filus to take game 3 15-13.

Game 4

After three consecutive two-point games, an aggressive Harimoto was able to force Filus into three early lobbing rallies en route to an early 6-3 lead. Harimoto never looked back as he extended his lead and cruised to a comfortable 11-5 victory.

Game 5

Game 5 was Filus’ turn to win comfortably as errors from Harimoto allowed Filus to build a 7-2 lead. However, Harimoto never got as push-happy as he did in Game 3, and a confident Harimoto was able to land in some nice shots to close the gap to 8-6. However, a couple more looping errors from Harimoto gave Filus some breathing room as he took game 5 11-7.

Game 6

Despite his many errors in the previous game, a confident Harimoto opened game 6 aggressively to build a 6-3 lead in spite of a lucky net ball from Filus. However, Harimoto then made two critical looping errors to narrow it to 6-5 and then called time-out. Filus didn’t even need to attack to reclaim the lead as Harimoto made two more errors coming out of the time-out, making it 7-6 in favor of Filus. However, Harimoto then got a lucky net ball himself to level it to 7-7. After winning two out of three chopping exchanges to take a 9-8 lead, Harimoto appeared to have the momentum. Filus then looped another ball out to give Harimoto double match point at 10-8. Harimoto only needed one as he won the next chopping exchange to take the sixth game 11-8 and along with it the match and title.

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6 Ruwen Filus Shots To Watch Out For In The WTT Doha Finals

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World Rank 42 Ruwen Filus has made a surprise Cinderella run to the finals of WTT Star Contender after defeating Jang Woojin (WR 12) in the round of 32, Jun Mizutani (WR 18) in the round of 16, Lin Yun-Ju (WR 6) in the quarter-finals, and Darko Jorgic (WR 31) in the semi-finals.

He will face Tomokazu Harimoto (WR 5) in the finals, and a sizable number of fans are expecting/hoping for Filus to win. The finals can be viewed on WTT’s website and will be streamed live at 12:45 Greenwich time. Harimoto and Filus have gone 1-1 in their previous international match-ups, with Filus winning their most recent match in 2019.

Although Filus, at age 33, has been around for a while, some fans may be quite unfamiliar with Filus’ game other than the fact that he is a chopper. Most people’s minds immediately jump to Joo Se Hyuk when they think of a male chopper, but Filus is quite different and arguably more creative. We re-watched Filus’ round of 32 match against Jang Woojin and identified six shots to watch out for in a Ruwen Filus match.

Each of these six shots have at least two or three variations visible to the spectator, and when Filus is able to string them together in weird combinations, the possibilities are countless.

Another thing to note is that most of these shots are actually offensive shots. While Filus is known as a chopper, if we discount lucky points and missed serve returns from from the opponent, in Filus’ round of 32 victory over Jang Woojin, 72% of the points that Filus won were on offensive shots (i.e. shots where Filus is actively and quickly trying to throw his opponent out of position). With that in mind, let’s now take a non-exhaustive look at Filus’ toolkit.

1) Offensive Shot: The Floater

The floater is an aggressive shot popular among close-to-the-table long pips players (which Filus is not). To execute the floater, Filus quickly pushes an underspin ball with the long pips at a well-placed location to the elbow or wide corner. While the ball’s raw speed is lower than a regular chiquita, the ball still comes back fast and opponents will sometimes get a unique sensation that the ball is “floating” towards them, which can often mess up their timing. Moreover, Filus appears to have more control over the direction and magnitude of the sidespin he adds to the ball compared to a standard chiquita.

While some may dispute the classification of this shot as an offensive shot due to its slow speed, Filus often uses it with the intent to either win the point outright or set up an aggressive opening on the next shot.

2) Offensive Shot: The Surprise Block

It may seem paradoxical to classify a block as an offensive shot, but the keyword is surprise. When the opponent is expecting Filus to chop it back slowly and then he rushes in and twiddles the paddle for the fast backhand block, the opponent has to react arguably just as quickly as if it were a counterloop or punch that they were expecting.

Unlike the floater, which Filus frequently uses to either win the point or set up another shot, Filus doesn’t use this shot as often (hence the term “surprise” in the name). However, when he does it, the conversion rate is very high.

The surprise block is typically a backhand shot, but there is a forehand variation where it looks like Filus is about to push or shovel (see #5) the ball, and then rushes in for a quick forehand click.

3) Offensive Shot: The Surprise Backhand Loop

When the opponent sends a slow push to Filus’ backhand, he has time to twiddle paddle and pull off a surprise backhand loop. His loop looks like it’s in slow motion compared to some other offensive players with more offensive equipment, but again the key is the surprise. When the opponent is expecting a simple push or a floater back, a well-placed surprise backhand loop can be incredibly difficult to react to.

4) Offensive Shot: The Forehand Loop

The forehand loop both as an opening and a counter-lop is a standard offensive shot that all choppers have. However, it looks like Filus is able to use his forehand more efficiently and frequently than normal choppers because of his arsenal of other shots. For example, he does not really chop with the forehand but instead uses the shovel (see #5), which has a similar backstroke to a forehand loop. This makes him able to more easily switch to a forehand counter-loop when he sees the opportunity.

In the point shown below, he gets Jang out of position with a fast floater and then hits him with a hard down-the-line counter-loop.

5) Defensive Shot: The Shovel

While Filus usually wins the points off his offensive shots, the defensive shots give him the element of surprise that give his offensive shots the firepower that they have. On the forehand side, Filus essentially never chops. He instead prefers to “shovel” the ball along with his forehand. The drawback of this shot is that it perhaps becomes more difficult for him to sustain a defensive rally than a normal chopper.

However, there appear to be two key benefits. One is that the shovel is slightly faster and gives a sharper tempo contrast with his backhand chops. The second, as mentioned earlier, is that the shovel appears to allow him to more seamlessly integrate offensive forehand loops and even flicks due to their similar backstrokes with the shovel.

This can be seen in the point below, although Filus ends up losing. Another fun nugget in this point is that Filus twiddled to chop with the black inverted side at the beginning of the point.

6) Defensive Shot: The Chop

Last but not least is the shot that Filus is most famous for: the chop. He sometimes twiddles to chop with the black inverted rubber, but he mostly uses it the standard way: an underspin chop with the long pips.

As we mentioned earlier, the chop doesn’t directly win Filus that many points as 72% of his points won against Jang were off offensive shots. In fact, in his match with Jang, Filus lost a majority of the rallies where he was stuck chopping and couldn’t get an offensive shot off.

However, the chop is what unlocks his ability to patiently wait for the chance to unleash all the other shots in his toolkit, so although it doesn’t win him that many points directly, it is the most important shot of Filus’ game and also his signature shot.

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How Korean Teenager Shin Yubin (WR 94) Upset Japanese Star Miu Hirano (WR 12) At WTT Doha

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Shin Yubin (WR 94) continued her sensational run at WTT Star Contender in WTT Doha as she defeated Miu Hirano (WR 12) 11-4, 13-11, 4-11, 11-7 in the round of 16 in a preview of a potential Olympic team semi-final match-up. Shin will play national teammate Jeon Jihee in the quarter-finals.

It is yet another disappointing loss for Hirano in 2021. After a loss to a lower-ranked (granted, Shin is massively underraetd) potential Olympic rival, Hirano’s continued slump has to be raising alarm bells for Japanese team coaches.

The most alarming aspect of this loss for Hirano is that Shin just felt better. Shin dictated the pace of the game and relentlessly attacked Hirano’s elbow, and there seemed little that Hirano could do about it. Shin also appeared to dominate the rallies, and the match ended up being as close as it was largely due to some tricky play by Hirano and what felt like Shin being a bit predictable in game 3.

To get a feel for how concentrated Shin’s attacks to the elbow were, Edges and Nets found that 18 out of 28 (64%) of Shin’s attempted openings were directed at Hirano’s elbow, while only 9 out of 33 (27%) of Hirano’s attempted openings were directed at Shin’s elbow (Hirano mainly attacked both wings). Shin’s mid-rally shots and long serves also targeted Hirano’s elbow.

While the numbers may make it look like Hirano was more aggressive than Shin, they belie the fact that Shin served long roughly twice as often (ten times to five times) than Hirano did in anticipation of a soft opening, which may have reflected her confidence in winning the longer rallies.

Hirano did not help herself in the first game by missing a total of five serve returns and giving a couple of sloppy serves that Shin was able to kill for winners. This included the four early missed serve returns shown below that allowed Shin to build a 7-2 lead and then cruise to a 11-4 victory. In contrast, Shin did not miss a single serve return this game.

The serve return disparity slightly evened out in the second game, and Shin was able to build a 10-7 lead thanks to aggressive play to the elbow like in the clip shown below.

However, Hirano almost stole game two by reaching into her bag of tricks on the serve return: a strawberry to the elbow at 8-10, her first deep push to the backhand of the match at 9-10, and a weird soft floater at 10-11.

After getting her fifth game point at 12-11, Shin apparently had enough with Hirano’s tricks, served a fast long serve to and converted the game point by dominating the ensuing rally.

In the third game, Hirano appeared to better anticipate Shin’s attacks to the elbow as she handled it with a combination of hard step-around forehands and concentrated well-placed blocking. Combined with some additional surprise plays such as another long deep push to Shin’s backhand at 5-3, Hirano was able to build a 8-3 lead and then cruise to a 11-4 victory.

Shin opened up game four with two wide openings to the backhand that Hirano was not expecting. In particular, in the first point shown below, you can see that Hirano’s hand and feet appear to be cheating early towards a step around forehand and she’s completely caught off guard by Shin’s decision.

By diversifying her openings a bit, Shin was able to neutralize Hirano’s anticipation advantage, and in a raw rally, Shin appeared to have the advantage as she walked her way into an 11-7 victory to take the match 3-1. She will face Jeon Jihee in the next round, where she will get the opportunity to stamp herself as the face and future of Korean women’s table tennis.

Shin Yubin dominates the rally en route to her game 4 victory.

The full match is available on WTT/ITTF’s Youtube channel. Full tournament results are available on the WTT website.

Here is an Instagram summary of this post:

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Top 6 Storylines Following Round of 32 At WTT Star Contender

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We take a look at the biggest storylines following the round of 32 and going into the round of 16 in the WTT Star Contender event at WTT Doha.

1) Shin Yubin Defeats Margaryta Pesotska To Set Up Korea-Japan Olympic Team Preview Against Miu Hirano

After upsetting Miyuu Kihara (WR 47) in the round of 64, the massively underrated 16-year old Shin Yubin (WR 94) upset Margaryta Pesotska (WR 32) 3-1 to set up a round of 16 clash against Miu Hirano (WR 11). Shin will be representing South Korea at the Tokyo Olympics after beating several higher ranked players the Korean Olympic Trials, and her match with Hirano provides a preview for a potential Korea-Japan semi-final match-up in the Olympic Team Event.

Although Hirano is significantly higher ranked, Shin has a decent chance at an upset. Hirano has struggled over the last couple years and has had a disappointing 2021 so far; she lost to Kihara at the All Japan National Championships and was again further outperformed by Kihara in WTT Contender. Japan is still the heavy favorite for the silver medal regardless of the result, but if Hirano loses to Shin, Japanese national team coaches may start to grow concerned over whether their third star can snap out of her funk.

2) No Korea-Japan Men’s Round of 16 Matches As WTT Star Contender Additions Fall

The men’s draw was originally set to feature two potential previews of a Korea-Japan team match-up in the round of 16, but no such preview will be happening. Instead, Korea’s Jeoung Youngsik (WR 13) will be playing Gustavo Tsuboi (WR 36), who slaughtered Japan’s Koki Niwa (WR 17) 3-0, and Japan’s Jun Mizutani (WR 18) will be playing Ruwen Filus (WR 42), who upset Korea’s Jang Woojin (WR 12) 3-1. Both Jang and Niwa did not play in WTT Contender, and their presence was supposed to bolster the star-power of WTT Star Contender.

Filus may have just sent German teammate Timo Boll a huge gift. Jang was originally expected to almost certainly pass Timo Boll on the rankings to secure a top eight seed at the Olympics, but after Jang’s first round exit, Boll will likely hold onto his world rank.

Not everything was rosy for Germany as Patrick Franziska (WR 16), another additional star to WTT Star Contender, fell to Sharath Achanta (WR 32) 11-9 in the fifth. Achanta will face Franziska’s national teammate Dimitrij Ovtcharov (WR 10) in the round of 16.

3) Bernadette Szocs, Britt Eerland, and Lily Zhang Fail to Capitalize on Friendlier Draw

After putting up a valiant fight against a difficult draw in last week’s WTT Contender, Bernadette Szocs (WR 25), Britt Eerland (WR 28), and Lily Zhang (WR 30) were dealt a much friendlier draw this week. However, none of them were able to capitalize on the opportunity as Szocs lost 3-1 to Bruna Takahashi (WR 49), Eerland blew a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to Kim Hayeong (WR 123), and Zhang lost 3-2 to Satsuki Odo (WR 103).

Eerland and Szocs missed a chance to solidify their position as a top 16 seed at the Tokyo Olympics, which also appears to be a cut-off for direct qualification for European players via world rank. Zhang also missed her chance to break into the round of 16, although she is already confirmed to represent the United States in Tokyo.

4) Kristian Karlsson Upsets Liam Pitchford Deuce In the Fifth As Pitchford’s Goes 0-2 in Doha

After losing to Andreas Levenko (WR 141) in the first round last week, Liam Pitchford (WR 15) again lost in his first match, this time to Kristian Karlsson (WR 29), who saved a match point in the fifth game to win deuce in the fifth. Pitchford has been nursing a hand injury suffered during practice two weeks ago, which severely hampered him in his loss to Levenko. Pitchford’s hand looked stronger this time as he was able to land some strong chiquitas that he struggled with last week, but he nevertheless lost deuce in the fifth to Karlsson to wrap up what has to be an extremely disappointing tournament for Pitchford.

Karlsson will play Gauzy in the round of 16, who reached the semi-finals in last week’s WTT Contender after upsetting Hugo Calderano, in what Edges and Nets would consider to be the most interesting men’s singles round of 16 match-up due to the combined starpower, even match-up, and the looming possibility of a Gauzy vs Calderano rematch.

5) Cheng I-Ching and Hina Hayata to Face Off In Difficult Round of 16 Match

After upsetting Kasumi Ishikawa (WR 9) and making a run to the finals, where she came quite close to beating Ito for the championship, in last week’s WTT Contender, Hina Hayata (WR 26) defeated 15-year old Kim Nayeong (ranked a ridiculously low 724) 3-1 to advance to the round of 16, where she will face an early test against second seed Cheng I-Ching (WR 8). Cheng will also get the chance to redeem herself after suffering a first-round exit last week to Szocs. A win from Hayata, who will not be playing in the Olympics, would also help her national teammate Kasumi Ishikawa in her campaign to take the Olympic fourth seed from Cheng.

6) An Jaehyun Avenges World Championship Semi-Final Loss With 3-0 Win Over Mattias Falck

We provided a full recap of the match here.

An Instagram summary with additional video highlights has been posted below:

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An Jaehyun Avenges WTTC Semi-Final Loss With 3-0 Win Over Mattias Falck

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Mattias Falck (WR 8) forced An Jaehyun back from the table and out of view of WTT’s beloved new camera angle, but An still managed to take the point with a pair of hard forehand counter-loops from deep to go up 10-7 and 2-0 in games for triple match point. He only needed one as an aggressive An Jaehyun avenged his 2019 World Championship semi-final loss to Mattias Falck with a comfortable 3-0 (11-8, 11-9, 11-7) victory in the round of 32 in WTT Star Contender at WTT Doha.

It was a stellar performance from An as his national teammates struggled: Lee Sangsu (WR 22) was upset 3-1 by Anton Kallberg (WR 58), Jang Woojin (WR 11) was upset by Ruwen Filus (WR 42), and Jeoung Youngsik (WR 13) squeaked by deuce in the fifth against Kirill Gerassimenko (WR 46). Falck is the highest ranked player that a Korean player of either gender has beaten so far at WTT Doha.

The full match can be watched on WTT/ITTF’s Youtube channel.

Game 1

Falck started the first point of the match with a strategy he would rely on throughout the game: a wide push or block to An’s forehand would force a step-around-happy An to put up a weak forehand opening, and then Falck would quickly roll it back wide to An’s backhand. Falck was able to build an early 3-0 lead, but An was able to pull off seven points in a row off very aggressive forehand loops to take a 7-3 lead. A pair of points when An lead 9-7 provided a perfect summary of the game: Falck won a point with a wide push to the forehand followed by a wide crosscourt backhand roll to cut it to 9-8, and then An won a point with a hard step-around forehand to bring it back up to 10-8. Down 10-8 Falck tried to mix things up with a serve from the forehand side, but he missed a block against An’s soft opening after a brief short-push exchange, giving An the game 11-8.

Game 2

Falck won the first two points with a pair of smart serves, but then again lost four points in a row to go down 4-2. He won the next two points to level it to 4-4, prompting An to ask for a COVID timeout, (i.e. where a player effectively gets an extra mini-break by asking the umpire to “wipe down” the table). At 5-5, An then served a long fast serve and took the ensuing backhand-backhand rally, and then Falck missed a short backhand opening to go down 7-5. Falck was able to kill a weak push from An on the next point, but then missed two consecutive half-long backhand openings to go down 9-6, prompting him to wipe the table in frustration.

An missed an attempt at a step-around forehand kill, and then Falck won two more points off of smart service play, including a risky long fast serve to An’s forehand, to level it at 9-9. However, An would take the last two points to take the second game 11-9 as Falck threw his paddle in disgust after missing another backhand opening.

Game 3

An Jaehyun stole the first point with a down the line long fast serve to Falck’s forehand, but Falck hit several nice rallies and wide shots to take a 5-2 lead. An then took a couple of rallies to level it to 6-6. An then whiffed a backhand loop against a slower than expected block from Falck, putting Falck up 7-6. Falck then missed a short push and a block, causing him to call a time-out down 8-7. The time-out was of no avail as An won the next three points to complete a 5-0 winning streak and take the match 11-8, 11-9, 11-7.

Notes

  • Falck appears not to be a fan of the COVID time-out as he wiped the table himself several times. The umpire did not give him a yellow card, a decision that Edges and Nets agrees with given our “let them play” attitude and skepticism over the effectiveness of banning table-touching from preventing coronavirus spread (you’re just calling a socially distant umpire to walk up right next to you to touch the table for you!). However, others may have wished to see existing COVID restrictions enforced more strictly.
  • An will get the chance to avenge Lee Sangsu in a round of 16 match-up with Anton Kallberg
  • Despite his great performances recently, An will not be participating in the Tokyo Olympics after losing out in the Korean Olympic Trials on what essentially was a technicality, giving his fans a massive case of second lead syndrome.

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