After upsetting Liang Jingkun in the quarter-finals at the China Olympic Scrimmage, Zhou Qihao pulled off an even bigger upset in the semi-finals with an 11-5, 13-11, 9-11, 8-11, 14-12, 4-11, 11-8 victory over Ma Long. As the underdog, Zhou played extremely aggressively, and when he was hot, there was little that even Ma could do. However, when Ma seized control of the game flow, he was able to force Zhou into alternating between being too passive and letting Ma dominate the pace and being too aggressive and missing wild shots.
As a result, the match was extremely streaky, and even a six point lead never felt safe. In game 7, Zhou found himself trailing 8-4, turned up the aggression a notch, and was able to pull off seven straight points to take the game 11-8 and the match 4-3. After the match, Zhou said that it was better not to think too much when down 8-4 and that he just tried taking it one point at a time.
Zhou will play Fan Zhendong, who defeated Wang Chuqin in the semi-finals, in the finals. Zhou knows he will be an underdog against Fan as well and stated that he just has to go for it. In the women’s singles event, Chen Meng, who defeated Zhu Yuling in the semi-finals, will face off in the finals against Sun Yingsha, who defeated Wang Yidi in the semi-finals.
The schedule for May 7 is as follows: Zhu Yuling plays Wang Yidi for third place at 18:30, Wang Chuqin plays Ma Long for third place at 19:30, Chen Meng plays Sun Yingsha at 20:30, and Fan Zhendong plays Zhou Qihao at 21:30. Presumably at least the finals will be broadcast on CCTV-5.
From his hard and wide counter-loop on the first point of the match to an aggressive hard down the line counter from below the table to go up 9-5, Zhou set an extremely aggressive rhythm throughout the opening game. Ma seemed to be unable to get into an aggressive rhythm for himself as Zhou won the first game handily 11-5.
Zhou continued his aggressive and dominant ways heading into the second game. He took an early 3-1 lead,with the only lost point being due to a missed opening. However, Ma then executed a long fast serve that Zhou was only able to give a passive return against and then a short topspin serve to the forehand that Zhou misread and popped up. These two service sequences were enough to get Ma into an aggressive flow as he went on to win five straight points to go up 6-3.
Ma then missed several of what looked like some easier shots and openings, culminating in a push into the net to go down 9-6 as Zhou reeled off six straight points of his own. After Zhou missed a push and Ma won a pretty rally after Zhou misread his backhand serve, it looked like momentum was on Ma’s side. However, on the next point, Zhou pushed long to Ma’s backhand against Ma’s backhand serve, but Ma missed the step-around forehand opening, bringing the score to 10-8. Zhou then missed a half-long opening of his own and then called time-out up 10-9 with the serve.
Coming out of the time-out, the game took a turn into a short-game battle. Ma landed a chiquita on the serve return to Zhou’s elbow that Zhou missed, leveling the score to 10-10. Zhou then pulled off a nearly identical shot against Ma’s serve to take an 11-10 advantage. Ma then pushed short on the next serve return and prepared to step around early for the forehand. Zhou saw this and attempted a chiquita down the line but missed to make it 11-11. Ma tried a long fast serve to the backhand but missed the block to go down 12-11. A short push exchange at the next point ended with Ma pushing it into the net, giving Zhou the second game 13-11.
Ma appeared to seize control over the serve and return game as he went up 6-1 off a combination of clean openings and counters. A desperate Zhou attempted a wild backhand opening that went straight into the net, bringing Ma’s lead up to 7-1. Zhou then busted out a new backhand serve, won a point off the ensuing rally, and then missed his second attempt at a backhand serve to go down 8-2. Zhou was able to regather himself to win three straight points to narrow it to 8-5, but Ma landed a big forehand counter-loop to go up 9-5.
Zhou narrowed it to 9-6 with a nice chiquita to Ma’s forehand, but when he attempted the same move again on the next point, a prepared Ma landed a hard down-the-line counter to take a 10-6 lead. An aggressive Zhou landed in two straight winners and a fast and wide down-the-line backhand block to cut the lead to 10-9, prompting Ma to call time-out. Ma served a short serve to the forehand and Zhou pushed wide to the forehand off the side of the table, but Ma was able to land a pretty down-the-line loop that a late Zhou blocked into the net, giving Ma the third game 11-9.
Luck was on Ma’s side throughout game four. First, at 3-2 he hit a shot that looked very very much like a side-ball, but the umpire ruled it an edge ball. The ruling may have affected Zhou mentally as he made a series of errors to go down 9-4. After Zhou scored another point to cut it to 9-5, Ma then got another edge to go up 10-5. Zhou was able to cut the lead to 10-8, but Ma landed what appeared to be another net-ball on the short push. Zhou missed the return and threw his hands up in frustration as Ma took the fourth game 11-8.
Zhou started game five with another hot streak of pure aggression as he won five straight points to go up 6-2. However, he cooled off a bit after missing a forehand flick to make it to 6-3. Zhou appeared to alternate between being too passive and too aggressive as Ma went on a 7-1 run of his own to go up 9-7. However, a couple missed openings and pushes from Ma gave Zhou enough breathing room to save a game point and force it to deuce.
Ma got a lucky net ball to go up 11-10, but on the next point he then ripped his third ball forehand opening straight into the net. Ma landed an impressive down-the-line block to get his third straight game-point of the game, but Zhou overpowered Ma on the next rally to level it again to 12-12. Ma then gave a slightly weak and high push at 12-12 and a weak half-long opening at 12-13; Zhou killed both with a counter-loop winner to take the fifth game 14-12.
Ma was in complete control of game 6 as he again forced Zhou into alternating between too passive and too aggressive and missing high-risk shots. After Ma went up 8-1, Zhou was able to land in a couple of impressive points, but Ma squashed the comeback with an impressive pre-meditated step-around kill against the long serve to go up 9-3 and then an amazing highlight to go up 10-3. The two players then exchanged points as Ma comfortably took the sixth game 11-4.
Ma started game 7 on fire as he built an early 4-1 lead. Zhou, desperate to make some changes, started playing extremely aggressively as the next few points were almost all either Zhou killing himself or scoring huge winners early in the point. The gamble did not immediately pay off as Ma went up 8-4. After Ma missed a push to cut the lead to 8-5, all of Zhou’s risky shots suddenly started to land as he completed a 7-0 run to win the game 11-8 and the match 4-3.
You can watch the full match below:
A slideshow of relevant points can be found in the Instagram post below.