Category Archives: olympics

How Harimoto Built A 3-1 Lead And How Ma Long Came Back at the 2020 World Cup

In anticipation of the Tokyo Olympics, we are re-watching some key matches over the past year between top gold medal contenders. In this post we take a look at how Tomokazu Harimoto built a 3-1 lead against Ma Long at the 2020 World Cup before Ma called a pivotal time-out in Game 5 to come back and take the 4-3 win.

The 2020 World Cup was a weird tournament that likely makes its results a poor predictor of what will happen in the Olympics. First of all, it was right after the break from the pandemic, so players were still getting into competition state both mentally and physically. Second, players who integrated new elements into their game during the pandemic break were debuting them against the top competition often for the first time, possibly resulting in some more experimental play. Third, non-Chinese players had to go through onerous quarantine before entering China during which they were not allowed to train.

Nevertheless, there is still some signal to be gleaned from this tournament. We take a look at what happened in this match, what trends we can expect to persist at the Olympics, and what we can expect to be different. At the time of this posting, the full match can be viewed on Youtube.

Game Plan

We first take a look at the general way in which Harimoto and Ma scored points in this match. As is common practice by top Chinese-speaking players, we divide the point into two distinct phases: the first three shots and the ensuing rally.

First Three Shots

Fighting for the Half-Long

Ma Long’s most desirable outcome coming out of the first three shots of the point was for him to take a forehand opening against the long and especially the half-long ball. He won 68% of the points where he attempted (points in which he missed his opening are also counted) such an opening against a serve or push. On all other points, he was only able to win 47% of the points.

As shown in the clip below, one way that Harimoto, aware of the advantage that yielding the half-long gave to Ma Long, responded to some of Ma’s slower half-long openings was to go for a counter-kill and end the point immediately. Harimoto ended up landing four counter-kills and missing six counter-kills/blocks. This is still a losing situation but less so than when he let Ma control the point following the half-long and slowly carve him up.

The Flicking Game

After Ma was able to take six long forehand openings in game 1, Harimoto, unable to beat Ma in the short-pushing game, was more aggressive in attempting to flick against the short ball in the next game in order to deny Ma the half-long opening. In game 2, Harimoto took 9 short flicks as he cruised to an 11-3 victory. Harimoto would continue to be far more aggressive than Ma in attempting short flicks: Harimoto attempted 50 flicks in the match, while Ma only attempted 12.

Not only was Harimoto more aggressive in attempting to flick against the short ball, but his flicks themselves were also of a more aggressive nature. Harimoto landed 10 flicks that were instant winners while Ma only landed 4 such winners (and unlike Harimoto’s hard flicks, Ma’s “winners” were more controlled well-placed slow shots). However, Harimoto’s aggressiveness came at a cost: he also missed 7 short flicks while Ma did not miss a single flick.

Unforced Errors

We define an unforced error as a missed serve, serve return, or third ball opening against a push. The disparity in unforced errors was quite large as Harimoto missed five serve returns and four third balls while Ma only missed one serve return and one third ball against a push. That amounts to a seven-point difference for an average of one per game. Unforced errors didn’t end up being a difference-maker in any individual match, but the disparity is something to pay attention to should these two players meet in the Olympics.

Was the gap in unforced errors mostly due to extrinsic forces such as Harimoto’s onerous quarantine that Harimoto can easily take care of at Tokyo? Or was it mostly due to something intrinsic to their games such as Ma’s better serves and Harimoto’s natural inclination to take riskier openings?

Rally Game

Once the point got past the first three shots, Ma homed in on steadily attacking Harimoto’s elbow, often with a step-around forehand loop, as shown in the clip below.

Meanwhile, Harimoto played at a more frantic pace, going for fast wide kill-shots to Ma’s forehand, which was often extra vulnerable due to Ma’s tendency to step around. The most potent way in which Harimoto attacked Ma’s forehand was with a quick down-the-line backhand punch—either from the wing or from the elbow—with sidespin that curved the ball even wider to Ma’s forehand.

Alternatively, against Ma’s many shots to the elbow, Harimoto could also step around to deliver a quick forehand loop that was placed even wider and curved even harder than his backhand punch. These step-around shots from the elbow carried the advantage that Harimoto could generate his own power with a quick backstroke and not have to rely on borrowing Ma’s pace. However, the downside was that the extra backstroke made the shot harder to pull off in a faster rally, in which case the quick backhand would be preferred.

Ma typically waited until he had the opportunity to step around for a big forehand before going to Harimoto’s forehand. However, Ma would leave his forehand extremely exposed in such instances, which Harimoto took advantage of with wide quick blocks off the bounce.

Ma Long’s Magical Time-Out

Harimoto looked on his way to a 4-1 victory as he had just scored three straight points and was up 5-4 and 3-1 in games until Ma called a time-out and completely reversed the course of the match.

Ma’s Magical High-Toss Serve

Prior to the time-out, Ma served a high-toss serve only twice. After the time-out, every single one of Ma’s serves was a high-toss serve. Ma’s high-toss serve was absolutely devastating for Harimoto. After the time-out, Harimoto held his own on his own serves through the second half of game 5 and game 6, going 7-7. However, he went an abysmal 2-11 on Ma’s serves.

Harimoto appeared to struggle mightily with pushing short against the high-toss serve, presumably due to an inability to read how much spin was on the ball. As a result, one major effect of Ma’s high-toss serve was that it opened up far more opportunities for him on the half-long opening. In Games 2-4 and the first half of game five, in which Harimoto was largely in control, Ma attempted a long forehand opening on 14% of the points. After the time-out, Ma nearly doubled that number to 26% over the next game and a half.

One way Harimoto managed to deny Ma the half-long was to flick the serve. However, against the high toss-serve, due to difficulties reading the spin and the inherent challenges of giving quality flicks against no-spin or light-spin balls, Harimoto’s flicks likely packed just a bit less speed and spin than earlier in the match. The slow-down appeared to be enough for Ma to wait in anticipation for the hard counter from the backhand or elbow and continue to dominate these points.

Taming Harimoto’s Fast Wide Shots to the Forehand

One of Ma’s key adjustments after the time-out was taking away the fast wide shots to the forehand from Harimoto. Both Harimoto’s number of attempted fast wide shots to the forehand and their effectiveness vanished following Ma’s time-out in Game 5. Before the time-out, Harimoto was able to land a fast wide shot to the forehand on 36% of all points and convert 89% of those into a win. However, after the time-out, Harimoto was only able to land a fast wide shot on 21% of all points and convert a measly 44% into wins.

The lower number of attempts is likely a consequence of Ma better controlling the rhythm of the point thanks to his high-toss serve. The lower conversion rate was likely due to Ma better anticipating the fast wide shot to the forehand so that he could get in position more reliably like in the clip shown below. In the first point of the clip, even though Harimoto misses the shot, we can see that Ma was already waiting for the shot to the forehand.

What to Expect In Tokyo

Should Ma and Harimoto meet in Tokyo, the aesthetic of the match will likely be similar, with Ma hunting half-longs and attacks to the elbow and Harimoto more aggressively flicking short balls and trying to win the rallies with quick wide shots to the forehand.

Harimoto will clearly be looking to make certain adjustments. Most importantly, he needs to find a way to better read Ma’s high-toss serve and develop a better contingency plan in case he has trouble reading the high-toss serve (or a new serve) again. Harimoto will also likely look to clean up some of the errors he made at the World Cup by virtue of better shot selection and being in better game-shape come Tokyo.

At age 33, Ma has likely been coasting through most of the major events since the 2019 World Championships, and we can expect to see an all-around better version of Ma in Tokyo. While Ma cannot count on his high-toss serve to bail him out again at the Olympics, he also still has more tools in his bag of tricks (such as his backhand serve) to give him an extra advantage should he need it again against Harimoto.

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Jun Mizutani Discusses Olympics, Harimoto, Ito, and More

Jun Mizutani recently sat down with a Japanese table tennis reporter to discuss the Tokyo Olympics, the pandemic, Tomokazu Harimoto, playing doubles with Koki Niwa as two lefties, playing doubles with Mima Ito, and life after table tennis. Edges and Nets has provided an English translation below. All photos in this post are taken from the original website of the interview.

Please note that this translation was done via Google Translate with corrections for obvious mis-translations of table tennis terms; no Japanese speakers were involved. Translating Japanese pronouns into English gives Google Translate difficulties, and we did our best to correct the pronoun mistranslations to match the context, but there may still be errors.

On the Pandemic

First of all, I would like you to look back on the 2020-21 season. I think it was a difficult situation due to the pandemic, but what kind of year was it?

Mizutani: There were few matches, so I couldn’t confirm my condition. The only thing that was big was that the T-League was held for one season. Unfortunately, Kinoshita Meister Tokyo [Mizutani’s team] couldn’t achieve the third straight victory, but as an individual, I was able to win 13 singles, so I think it wasn’t bad.

How would you rate your performance on a scale to 100?

Around 70 points? I think there is still room for growth.

Please tell us your feelings when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, which should have ended before the opening of the T-League last year.

In many ways, I had the feeling that it was “quite difficult.” All domestic and international games are gone, and I don’t know when I can play. There were various restrictions on practicing. I had never had such an experience, so I had a really hard time.

I think it was difficult to maintain motivation.

That’s right. Even though I thought “I have to do my best for the Olympics!”, I sometimes felt depressed, “I wonder if it will be held …”. There was a wave in my feelings. But now that the event is approaching and it’s becoming more and more realistic, my motivation is very high.

A the moment when the Olympics were postponed, Mizutani’s face came to my mind first. “Is it okay?” “What should I do?”

If it were true, I might have retired around August last year (laughs). Now that I am confident that I can still do it, I think I can do my best until next year even if it is postponed again.

I was relieved to hear that. Is there any part of the condition that has improved over the past year that lead to your current confidence?

Is it a place where you can “return to the old days”? Recently, I’ve returned to the feeling I had when I was a high school student or college student who was playing table tennis and was crazy about it.

Did you have any chance [to return to the old days of being passionate]?

I’m sure it’s because I feel that the rest of my competitive life is short. I’ve always liked table tennis, but I can’t do it anymore. Because of that kind of loneliness, I think I can practice with a lot of strength like I used to.

Does the fact that you have more time to think about table tennis and look back at the pandemic also have an effect?

I think it is. On the other hand, when I couldn’t play table tennis, I tried some things, “let’s do something different.” But in the end, none of them lasted long. So when I practiced for the first time in a while, I thought, “Oh, I like table tennis after all.” I think that the feeling of “I like table tennis” that I felt anew is connected to my current self.

By the way, what is the “something different” that you tried?

First of all, I played a game (laughs).


Oh, is it “Clash Royale” that was showing off his skills on TV programs?

You know it well (laughs). I also held a tournament myself. I often talk about games with Harimoto in the bath [possible alternate translation: locker room?]. I talk about private things that have nothing to do with table tennis, the Olympics, Chinese players, etc., but 50% talk about games.

On Tomokazu Harimoto

That’s right. Now that you mentioned Mr. Harimoto, how do you see his growth as a player?

It seems that he is gradually feeling a sense of responsibility. Even in recent practice, after everyone finished the curriculum, they practiced independently for another hour. I am also working hard on training. Harimoto is already in the third year of high school. I think this is a time when one can grow up as a table tennis player and as a person, so I feel that he is facing table tennis more firmly than ever before.

Harimoto has sometimes raised mental control as an issue, but do you have the impression that he is also doing well in mental control?

I think he’s done very well since the beginning of this year. It was the same not only in the national team but also in the T-League, but last year he was disappointed when he lost the game, and he felt regret. He was more depressed than the team, he was more depressed about what he lost, and he wasn’t completely blown away. However, this hasn’t happened since the beginning of this year, and he’s in very good shape. He also won the singles at the international tournament held in Qatar in March, and I feel that he is growing steadily.

What do you feel is growing in his play?

He’s back to the aggressive play style he used to have. When Harimoto is off, his play becomes defensive, and in many cases he is attacked by his opponent and cannot defend himself. But lately, I can see that he is taking advantage of that reflection and facing the game with the intention of aggressively attacking himself.

On Koki Niwa and Playing Doubles Together

The mental and play aspects are definitely evolving, aren’t they? Please tell us your impression of another national team member, Koki Niwa.

The approach to table tennis has changed. I think Niwa has a “genius skin” in terms of play, or a play style that doesn’t look like a hard worker, but in practice it’s moving tremendously. I wondered if that movement would really be used in games. It’s also interesting to practice mainly on the basics, even though you play so messed up in a match.

Niwa is a genius player, I was a little surprised that the main practice was basic practice.

I don’t think that was the case in the past. Immediately before the last Rio Olympics, he was so stressed that he couldn’t practice for weeks, and sometimes he escaped from reality. But this time, he’s doing basic practice every day, so I’m glad it looks okay. He’s my doubles partner, but he’s a player who has his own world, so I think I have to read what he’s thinking.

Do you have any concerns that you are both left-handed for doubles?

Certainly, the pair of two left-handed players has hardly been seen in the world for the past 15 years. There was also a talk that either I or Niwa should team up with Harimoto because it is difficult to move. However, Harimoto still wants to be an “ace player” (a player who plays two games in singles), so naturally the team took on its current form [where Niwa and Mizutani are paired]. I have been practicing with Niwa quite a bit, and every time I do it, I make new discoveries and understand our weaknesses, so I feel that I am growing step by step despite the difficulties.

Because the hard part is, how do I move?

That’s right. Everything is difficult, both after serving and after receiving.

Still, are there upsides as well?

There is definitely. The merit of teaming up two left-handed players is that both can provide the same service as in singles, and it is possible to attack with a chiquita even in receive. I think it will give us a great advantage in that respect. Also, from the opponent’s point of view, I think it’s definitely their first time to play against a lefty/lefty pair. I have no experience either.

Certainly, you can play a match against an opponent who has never played against a lefty/lefty pair while always holding an advantage.

There is definitely an advantage in terms of feelings. However, if you do it properly, you won’t win 100%. If you can play normally and win, there would be more lefty/lefty pairs. So our strategy is not to play a normal doubles match, but to use a lot of tricky play to confuse our opponents. So I think you’ll feel like you’re watching a completely different competition.

On Mima Ito

You will also participate in the Tokyo Olympics in mixed doubles. It’s been about two years since you made a pair with Ito from the Korea Open held in July 2019. Please tell us your impression of Ito again.

When I first formed the pair, I was confused by the variety of Mima Ito’s plays. Whether it’s service or receive, it’s a new technique I’ve never seen, I take a course, and the returned ball is also unique, so I couldn’t handle it easily. Even so, the pairing is getting better as the number of games increases, and I feel that the combination is getting better even in practice.

Ito is from the same club (Toyota Town Table Tennis Sports Boy Scouts), and she has a well-known relationship [with Mizutani]. Since she was little, she was called “Falcon” (laughs).

I’m abandoning it now (laughs).

You’re fighting in doubles with Ito, but is your impression different from what it used to be?

I have strong memories of when she was in kindergarten, so there may be parts where I can interact with her as she were in the past.

Is it like a cute little sister?

It really feels like that. However, the moment I stand in front of the table tennis table, I become the face of a top athlete representing Japan. I also look at it with respect.

On His Chance Of Winning Gold in Mixed Doubles

About a year ago, it was said that in mixed doubles you and Ito had a 65-75% chance at medaling and a 20% chance at gold. Has that percentage changed?

We are second in the mixed doubles world rankings, so we will probably be the second seed. In that case, I think that the possibility of medals has increased to about 70-80% because we will not hit the Chinese pair [Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin] until the finals. The gold medal is also adjusted very nicely, so it’s about 30%.

It indeed has gone up a lot. I think the biggest rival is China’s Xu Xin & Liu Shiwen pair, but looking at the competition results so far, it is a painful result without a victory in four matches.

There is not much difference in ability among us, and I think that we are in a position to win, so I think that the rest is a big part of my feelings. Looking back, in the 2019 Grand Final final, while leading the set count 2-0, we lost three games at once and lost the matches. As I continued to lose, I started to think “I want to win” and “I think I can win” during the match, and I felt less motivated to go, or I was a little defensive. If I can get rid of that, I think the probability of winning will increase.

Is there anything you are working on specifically?

Recently, I’ve been practicing a reverse horizontal rotation serve called YG (Young Generation) service. I don’t usually use it a lot in games, but there are many players who have trouble with YG service regardless of gender. That’s why I want to use it as a big weapon at the Olympics.

Certainly, Mizutani has an image that YG service will be released at this moment.

I think so. The reason why I haven’t used it so much is that the YG service is a very complicated rotation, so the returned ball is also complicated. In that case, it would be difficult for Mima Ito to hit the third ball, so it was a big risk to put it out many times. But on the contrary, if you master it, it will definitely become a big weapon, so I am currently practicing hard. Already, Mima Ito’s trust in hitting the third ball firmly even for complicated receives has increased considerably.

Other rivals include Taiwan’s Lin Yun-ju & Cheng I-Ching and South Korea’s Lee Sang-su & Jeon Ji-hee. What is your impression of them?

I’ve been able to win the Taiwanese pair without much effort, so I think it’s a great match. However, I lost to the Korean pair in the semi-finals of the Qatar Open in March. As for the cause of defeat, there are many patterns in which male players are left-handed and female players are right-handed in pairs from other countries, but the Korean pair is the opposite and a little special. That’s why I was confused by the return ball, which has a different nature than before. It didn’t mesh well from beginning to end.

I was watching the game, but I had the impression that you couldn’t break the bad momentum.

That’s right. My play was also really bad. But I’m sure I’ll be able to play well at the Olympics, and I don’t think we’ll get similar results.

On the Tokyo Olympics and Beyond

However, what I am really worried about is the condition of Mizutani’s eyes. Recently, I think some people have said that “the naked eye is better”, but what is your current state?

I’ve been practicing with the naked eye for a long time now, and I feel that it’s a little better than it used to be. For the time being, new sunglasses will arrive, so I haven’t decided which way to go. We plan to make a decision after previewing the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, which is the venue for the match.

I just pray that you will be in the best condition. The opening of the Tokyo Olympics is approaching, but what is the position of Mizutani in this tournament, which will be your fourth appearance?

I think it’s my first and last chance to win a gold medal. The next Paris tournament will be difficult due to age, and this time it will be held in Tokyo, so I would like to prepare so that I can demonstrate all my abilities.

You’ve always been told that you’ll retire after the Olympics, but do you still feel that way?

Yes. However, I think that I will retire from the international competition, but I wonder if I will continue to play table tennis … It may be quite ambiguous (laughs).

I’m getting ahead of myself, but what do you want to do other than table tennis after the Olympics?

That’s not the case at all. I also like soccer and baseball, so I have a desire to try it, but I’m tired of it. There is no such thing as “I want to continue doing this!”

It’s strange that people who have been playing table tennis for such a long time get bored. How about being a commentator? I think you commentated on the finals at this year’s All Japan Championships.

If I get an offer, I would like to try it. It feels like “I wish I could.”

Finally, please share with us your enthusiasm for the Tokyo Olympics.

As a culmination of myself, I would like to express all of my 27 years of competitive life in performance. The goal is to play so far away from humans that the viewer thinks “I can never imitate that myself”, so please take a look.

By the way, do you not wear underwear at this tournament as well?

Naturally. Needless to say.

If you change it suddenly, the condition will go crazy. Thank you for this time. I’m looking forward to your success!

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Mattias Falck Interview With European Youth Table Tennis Organization

Mattias Falck recently sat down for an interview with Compass, a European Youth table tennis organization. More information on the organization can be found here. The original article is in German. We have posted an English translation here (the translation was done by Google Translate with human corrections for obvious errors on table tennis terms; no native German speakers were involved). Read other interviews that we have aggregated and translated here.

The reigning World Championships runner-up Mattias Falck is a late bloomer. He is currently preparing for the Olympic Games. Its advantage is its extraordinary play system, which also goes very well with the new ABS plastic ball. 

He can’t wait to land in Japan. “To take part in the Olympic Games, to experience them, is something special!”

Mattias Falck. Falck means falcon in Swedish. Here the falcon flies during the game. Photos: ITTF

When Compass reaches Mattias Falck, he is in a hotel room in Paris. He, Kristian Karlsson, Jon Persson and Anton Källberg are currently on a preparatory training camp for the European Championships and the Olympic Games together with the French national team. Mattias is grateful for the variety of being in a city he doesn’t visit often and training with players he doesn’t otherwise train with. When I asked him what he was currently concentrating on during training, he initially hesitated to answer.

Potential for improvement: Falck is working a lot on a harder pre-opening.

“There is a lot of improvement in my game,” he says, which sounds very humble for someone who is ranked ninth in the world. “I’m good at rallies, but since I play with short pimples on my forehand, my first offensive ball is sometimes too slow, which makes it a little too easy for my opponents to attack hard on this ball and counter-loop. That’s why I try to improve my forehand openings. ”

Mattias Falck made it into the top 100 in October 2015. In June 2019 he was in the top 10, which is something special. Only three non-Asian players have managed to do this in the last seven years. [Note from Edges And Nets: this is clearly false since Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov have both occupied a top-ten spot in 2021.] Besides Mattias, these are Simon Gauzy and Hugo Calderano.

“Whether you make it to the top 100 to the top 10 depends on many things. I think the most important thing is the irrepressible will to always want to improve. And to have a lot of fun developing as a player so that you can enjoy the hard work that is necessary for it, so to speak. It is also important to like the crucial situations in important games, to be triggered again especially when it is 9-9 in a final for a championship.

The gun – backhand.

For me personally, it took me some time to mature and adapt to adult table tennis. It has always been my strength to play the ball safely on the table. In order to assert myself with the adults, I had to become much more aggressive and play harder, but at the same time also had a high level of basic security. With my game system, I can not only play safely. I have to take risks, but of course make as few mistakes as possible. “

You made it into the Top 10 later than anyone else in it right now. You were almost 28. Could you have been there earlier?

“I think everyone goes their own way and there are always a lot of things that influence their career. I can count myself lucky that I had good coaches in every phase of my career – in Lyckeby, where I was trained, in Köping, where I went to table tennis high school, and in Halmstad, where I moved afterwards and where I have been for over ten years. I always had people around me who supported me and believed in me, not to forget my wife, of course. One thing I regret is that I started physical/weight training too late. I still have a lot of work to do in this area. “

Sensation in Budapest 2019. Falck is in the final at the World Cup against Ma Long. 

It’s one thing to get to the top 10, it’s another to stay there. You have succeeded in doing this for almost two years so far. How come

“My equipment and thus my playing style are a big advantage for me: Short pimples on the forehand and a normal, inverted rubber on the backhand. Very few players play with this combination. Even if I should be analyzed more by my opponents, they still have to play a lot against this material and game system in order to get used to it. And there are just not many who play like me. Therefore it is still very uncomfortable for them that the ball comes out of my backhand with a lot of topspin and bounces “normally”, but much flatter and with reverse spin from my forehand. They are used to a completely different rhythm. “

Is the ABS plastic ball an advantage or a disadvantage for you?

“An advantage. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that there are not more pips in the men’s game. The first plastic ball bounced off very flat, making it almost impossible for me to smash the balls when my opponents were playing flat topspins into my forehand. Because my pimples have less grip compared to normal rubbers, I cannot counter-loop with topspin. I could more or less lift it back onto the table. The ABS plastic ball jumps a little higher and has less rotation. That makes it possible for me to attack more straight ahead, ie harder and also more aggressively. “

The Olympic Games are only a few weeks away. What is it like to be able to play there?

“Great! It is the biggest event for table tennis players as it only takes place every four years. You can feel that in the atmosphere. You get nervous, in a very special way. I took part in Rio 2016, but only in the team competition. We were beaten by South Korea in the quarterfinals, where I won a singles but lost the doubles. To experience an Olympics as a player is something extraordinary. I was in the Olympic Village in Rio for over ten days before the competitions started. Many said it wasn’t very wise. But I enjoyed every minute. I thought it was really cool to meet all kinds of people, some of them were real megastars. ” 

And how do you prepare?

“We will prepare with many training camps. Then I hope that the European Championships really take place in June so that we have at least one big tournament before that. In Japan we will then have a camp in Fukuoka before we move to the Olympic Village on July 20th. “

You will be placed in the top eight. Special wishes for the draw?

“No – it comes as it comes. I don’t worry about that. I focus on what I can influence. And these are my games. I exclude the rest. “

Falck has proven it to himself and to others – you can beat even the best Chinese.

And what about the Chinese?

“They are the favorites and of course they are very good. But I beat Xu Xin last year and had a set point for a seventh and decisive set against Ma Long. I think they respect me. I have to stay strong at the table and get them under time pressure. I’ll put everything I have in there and fight. “

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Power Ranking the Olympic Singles Gold Medal Contenders

This post is the first in a series of previews on the Tokyo Olympics. Read all our Olympic coverage here.

With the conclusion of the Chinese Olympic Scrimmages and less than fifty days to go, Olympic season is in full swing. While the Bundesliga finals, which will feature the likes of Timo Boll and Patrick Franziska, are scheduled to happen this weekend, there are arguably no more remaining high-profile events involving major Olympic gold medal contenders. This brings us to the question, exactly who can be classified as a gold medal contender?

In this post, we take a look at who is a contender and who is a pretender for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. We then rank the contenders of both genders in order of likelihood of winning gold in Tokyo. The rankings contain a certain amount of subjectivity, but hopefully they are at least more consistent and meaningful than ITTF’s FIFA-style “player ratings“.

Sorting Out Contenders and Pretenders

The road to gold runs through China, so to begin let us take a look at how the top seeds have fared against the Chinese National Team (CNT) over the last couple of years.

Men’s Singles

The table below shows the record of the top eleven seeds in the men’s singles events. The first column indicates the name of the player, the second column indicates his seed at the Olympics, the third column indicates his record against Ma Long (the second seed), the third column indicates his record against Fan Zhendong (the top seed), the fourth column indicates his/her record against the other four highest-ranked players on the CNT (Xu Xin, Lin Gaoyuan, Liang Jingkun, and Wang Chuqin), and the fifth column indicates the total number of wins he has recorded against any of these six members of the CNT.

We only consider four out-of-seven ITTF-sanctioned matches (unfortunately, WTT is looking to make three-out-of-fives the new normal) that happened since 2018 at the earliest. Moreover, we do not consider T2 results, as the rules are an absolute gimmick, and the top Chinese players of both genders possibly underperformed as a result. While this misses out on some key matches like Timo Boll’s 2017 renaissance, matches from four years ago arguably have very little predictive value for matches today. After all, Ding Ning was World Champion in 2017, and now she is retiring.

NameSeedRecord vs Ma LongRecord vs Fan ZhendongRecord vs Rest of CNTTotal Wins vs CNT
Fan Zhendong14-3N/A13-517
Ma Long2N/A3-412-415
Tomokazu Harimoto32-20-32-114
Hugo Calderano40-11-51-42
Lin Yun-Ju51-10-52-73
Mattias Falck60-20-11-51
Dimitrij Ovtcharov70-41-00-51
Timo Boll80-30-60-30
Jang Woojin90-00-44-44
Jeoung Youngsik100-31-30-51
Liam Pitchford111-00-11-22
Record of top seeds in Men’s Singles against CNT

As expected, we see that the Chinese National Team is heads and shoulders above the international competition. No international player has anything close to a winning record against the CNT, and Ma and Fan have by far the most wins against the CNT despite having the handicap of not being able to play against themselves.

We look at the total number of wins that a player has against the CNT as opposed to the win percentage. The idea is that players like Harimoto should not be penalized for making it far enough in a tournament to frequently face off against a Chinese player and lose.

We classify anyone who has not recorded more than two wins over a Chinese player over the last two years as a pretender. After all, if a player could only beat a Chinese player twice over three years, possibly when said Chinese player may have been nursing an injury, out of focus, or experimenting, what are the odds that he can beat them twice in the same tournament at which the Chinese will be at peak performance?

Thus, we label Calderano, Falck, Ovtcharov, Boll, Jeoung, Pitchford, and all the even lower seeds (no lower seed has more than one win against the CNT) as pretenders. While they are strong contenders for bronze and may even make the finals, which Falck achieved in the 2019 World Championships, they will really need all the stars to align and to have the tournament of their lives to win gold.

Women’s Singles

Let’s now take a look at a similar table for the top ten seeds of the women’s singles event. The fourth column in this table will refer to a player’s record against Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning, Wang Manyu, and Zhu Yuling over the last three years.

NameSeedRecord vs Sun YingshaRecord vs Chen MengRecord vs Rest of CNTTotal Wins vs CNT
Chen Meng13-1N/A24-827
Sun Yingsha2N/A1-36-107
Mima Ito31-40-38-89
Cheng I-Ching41-10-20-71
Kasumi Ishikawa51-61-20-82
Feng Tianwei60-11-20-61
Jeon Jihee70-30-10-20
Doo Hoi Kem80-20-20-20
Adriana Diaz90-10-00-10
Sofia Polcanova100-10-10-30
Record of top seeds in Women’s Singles against CNT

When looking at how many wins each player has scored against the CNT over the last three years, it is quite clear that Chen Meng, Sun Yingsha, and Mima Ito are all contenders and the rest of the field consists of pretenders. Although someone like Kasumi Ishikawa or Jeon Jihee may hope to steal a match from Ito and claim bronze, it is difficult to envision anyone outside of Chen, Sun, or Ito taking gold.

Power Ranking the Contenders

Now that we’ve sorted out the pretenders from the contenders using our rough proxy of wins against the CNT, it’s time to rank the contenders in order of likelihood of winning gold.

A common saying among coaches is that there are four pillars of table tennis: technical, physical, tactical, and psychological. While the initial reaction of many people is to focus on the technical aspect of table tennis, players like Liu Shiwen have emphasized the importance of the psychological aspect of table tennis. While we will look at more technical details in future posts, in this ranking we will lean more heavily into the role of amateur psychologist.

8) Lin Yun-Ju

The table shown above undersells Lin a bit, as they don’t count T2 matches, in which Lin beat Lin Gaoyuan, Ma Long and Fan Zhendong. The rules were clearly designed to increase the variance in outcomes and make it easier to pull off upsets, but at the end of the day, Lin has shown the ability to defeat Ma Long and Fan Zhendong in the same (watered-down) tournament, which makes him a gold medal contender.

Lin’s chiquita is arguably the best in the game, giving him the ability to play an aggressive style and launch the opening attack in the point, even when the opponent serves. However, his relative lack of strength and power makes his attacks less intimidating, as Ovtcharov was all too happy to concede the opening attack in his win over Lin at WTT Doha last March.

Lin spent the last Fall training in China with the Chinese National Team. There are two ways to read this. On the one hand, training with the top players and coaches in the world in principle should make him an even bigger threat to China.

On the other hand, China is notoriously secretive and competitive and won’t even share its rubbers with the world. The chances that they shared novel and meaningful insights with Lin are slim. Moreover, in 2017, China allegedly banned Hirano and Ishikawa from playing in the super league because they were such a big threat. If China really feared Lin as a serious contender, would they let him in to train with them right before the Olympics? Lin may surprise us all and pull off the two upsets that he needs, but from the looks of it, China is fairly confident that will not be the case.

7) Jang Woojin

Due to his disappointing first-round loss to Ruwen Filus at WTT Doha, Jang failed to break into the top eight seeds for the Tokyo Olympics. As a result, Jang can potentially run into a top seed as early as the round of 16.

Harimoto will certainly not want to see Jang in the round of 16, as the two exchanged narrow wins in a pair of seven-game thrillers in the ITTF Finals and World Cup last Fall. As Jang is tied with Harimoto on the leaderboard for most wins against the Chinese National Team over the last three years (granted, Harimoto and Lin both have more wins than Jang if you include three-out-of-five and T2 matches), Fan and Ma would likely prefer to see Jang deeper into the tournament as well.

Intuitively speaking, Jang’s willingness to step around and go for big forehands, even if it means risking getting burned on the wide-open forehand, can make his game more high-variance. This opens him up to a potential early-round exit, but it also tilts the odds further in his favor when playing against someone stronger than him such as Fan or Ma.

Jang’s low seed may end up being a blessing in disguise, as it may be easier to play the Chinese players earlier in the event as they may still be shaking off the Olympic jitters and getting used to the environment. Furthermore, a round-of-16 exit is far more stressful and disappointing for a Chinese player than a semi-final exit. If Jang can build an early 2-1 lead against Fan, can his aggressive play and the situational pressure get into Fan’s head?

Korea has consistently challenged China in the men’s singles event over the last several decades, and Korean national team coaches Ryu Seungmin and Kim Taeksoo won’t be intimidated by China. Jang has the surrounding coaching and training infrastructure to beat China. If he gets hot at the tournament, he may very well end up pulling off the two upsets that he needs to win gold.

6) Tomokazu Harimoto

5) Mima Ito

Tomokazu Harimoto and Mima Ito certainly have the respect and fear of the Chinese National Team. In an interview in 2019, Coach Liu Guoliang has remarked that what makes both of them dangerous is their fearlessness and willingness to try out new things.

Stylistically, both of them have zigged while the rest of the field has zagged. Partially due to his young age, Harimoto has opted to essentially never back off from the table or take a backstroke and to instead win points by out-pacing the Chinese with quick off-the-table bounces. Meanwhile, Mima Ito has developed arguably the most iconic serves in the game today (sorry Dima), and instead of attempting the hopeless task of defeating the Chinese in long rallies, she has directed her focus towards winning the point on her first three shots.

While it is still unclear how many fans will be able to attend the Olympics, the home crowd in Tokyo will surely give Harimoto and Ito at least some boost. As young underdogs, Harimoto and Ito will almost certainly face less pressure than their Chinese counterparts as well. Both players are clearly serious threats to beat the Chinese, but which one is more likely to win gold?

Ito probably has better chances of winning gold due to her lack of competition among non-Chinese women. While it’s possible that Ito is upset before she reaches the semi-finals, unlike Harimoto she does not need to worry about playing a Jang Woojin in the round of 16 or a Lin Yun-Ju in the quarter-finals. Virtually all the top non-Chinese stars played at WTT Doha in March, and Ito won both the Contender and Star Contender events quite handily. Meanwhile, Harimoto was upset by Ovtcharov in the Contender event before bouncing back to win the Star Contender event.

However, assuming both players reach the semi-finals, it is debatable who would fare better against the Chinese players. Ito has a significantly better record against the CNT than Harimoto does. She also apparently claimed that she has figured out how to beat Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, but her prior record against them is even worse than Harimoto’s record against Ma Long and Fan Zhendong.

In fact, the table above also slightly sells Harimoto short. He has a three-out-of-five win against Fan under his belt, and he was a blown 3-1 lead from defeating Ma at the 2020 World Cup in China despite having to go through onerous quarantine during which he was not allowed to play.

If we assume both players have roughly similar chances against the Chinese, then Ito edges out Harimoto in our power rankings. Harimoto carries a significantly bigger risk than Ito of not making the semi-finals, which in turn dampens his chances at winning gold.

4) Sun Yingsha

As is usually the case, the heaviest favorites for gold are all Chinese. While Ma Long vs Fan Zhendong is one of the more interesting table tennis debates these days, Chen Meng has performed heads and shoulders above the competition over the last few years. Hence, Chen takes the number one spot in our power rankings and Ma and Fan take the next two spots.

Although Sun has a worse record against the CNT than Ito over the last several years, Sun has a 4-1 head-to-head record against Ito, which becomes 6-1 when considering T2 and three-out-of-fives. Sun would be the favorite in a match-up against Ito, giving her the number four spot in the power rankings.

3) Fan Zhendong

2) Ma Long

With Sun Yingsha slotted in at fourth and Chen Meng locked in at first, the second and third spot in the power rankings go to Fan Zhendong and Ma Long. The big debate is, who would you pick between Ma and Fan to win gold in Tokyo?

Fan Zhendong has a winning head-to-head record over Ma Long since 2018, a better record against the Chinese National Team, and a higher world rank. Fan looked better than Ma at the Chinese Olympic Scrimmage. Ma will turn 33 at the end of the year, while most Chinese players retire by the age of 30.

However, Ma is arguably the greatest player of all time. Ma has won the last three World Championships, including in 2019 when he was coming off an injury and playing as a lower seed, and the 2016 Olympics. Even if he doesn’t look his best during scrimmages, which are the epitome of unimportant low-stakes matches, he has earned the benefit of the doubt that he will get it together when the matches really matter.

Moreover, as a result of Ma’s dominance over the last half-decade, Fan has zero championship experience in top-tier events. Fan may look better physically and technically, but Ma undoubtedly has the mental edge going into Tokyo.

Father Time catches up with everyone eventually, and Ma may end up looking extremely vulnerable a la Zhang Jike in 2016. However, until Ma loses in a World Championship or Olympic match, betting against him in a top-tier event is a dangerous game. Hence, he lands just above Fan in the power rankings.

1) Chen Meng

Before her loss to Wang Manyu in the finals of the second leg of the Olympic Scrimmage, Chen Meng was virtually untouchable for more than a year. She won the first leg of the Olympic Scrimmage earlier in May and won all her matches (not counting exhibitions like WTT Macao) in 2020, sweeping through World Cup, Grand Finals, All China National Championships in the Fall and the German Open and Qatar Open before the pandemic. She has a favorable head-to-head record against Sun and Ito, and since 2018 she has recorded more wins against the Chinese National Team in international competition than Ito and Sun combined.

Chen walks into Tokyo as the clear-cut favorite to win gold in the women’s singles event over Sun, Ito, and arguably the entire field combined. Neither Ma Long nor Fan Zhendong can claim such odds, so Chen sits atop the power rankings at number 1.

Update: Photos from the Chinese National Team Training Hall have been released, including their signature posters of their key rivals divided into tiers:

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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.

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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.

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.

Do you agree with our picks? If so, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. If not, please leave a comment on our Facebook or Instagram page.

16-Year Old Shin Yubin Becomes Youngest Ever Korean Olympic Table Tennis Player

16-year old Shin Yubin (WR #94) won the qualification tournament to represent South Korea in the women’s singles table tennis event at the Tokyo Olympics. She is the youngest ever Korean Olympic table tennis player, breaking the record previously held by an 18-year old Ryu Seungmin in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She will be 17 at the start of the Olympics. Despite only being the the fourth highest ranked player, Shin (WR #94) went undefeated in the second round robin and only dropped one match to lower ranked Lee Zion (WR #106) in the first round robin.

Shin will be representing Korea in the women’s singles even alongside Jeon Jihee (WR #15), who qualified directly via world rank. The third member to represent Korea in the woman’s team event will be selected by the national team coaches (most likely sooner rather than later). Suh Hyowon (WR #21) is the highest ranked remaining woman by far (the next highest would be WR #64 Choi Hyojoo), and is thus likely to be picked for seeding purposes, but she had an abysmal qualification tournament, finishing outside of the top three.

Feb 21 Update: Choi Hyojoo has been selected for the team event. Jang Woojin, Lee Sangsu, and Jeoung Youngsik will represent South Korean in the team event.

Korean Olympic Trials Day 4: Lee Sangsu Qualifies for 2021 Tokyo Olympics

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Lee Sangsu had qualified for the men’s singles event. The trials in fact were only for the team event. Jeoung Youngsik has been confirmed by ITTF to play the men’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics.

Lee Sangsu won both his remaining day 4 matches against Lim Jonghoon and Jeoung Youngsik and qualified for the Olympics. He will represent Korea at the Tokyo Olympics alongside Jang Woojin, who qualified directly via world rank. Lee’s qualification for the Olympics has also been verifed by several Korean sources. At the time of this posting Day 4 matches can be watched on the KTTA TV Youtube channel, but they may remove the streams from their channels later (they did so for the first three days). The final results of second leg of the round robin were:

Jeoung YoungsikLee SangsuAn JaehyunLim JonghoonCho
Daesong
2nd RR Record2nd RR Place
Jeoung Youngsik (WR #13)N/A2-42-44-1Win (unverified)2-23
Lee Sangsu (WR #22)4-2N/A2-44-14-23-12
An Jaehyun (WR #39)4-24-2N/A4-14-14-01
Lim Jonghoon (WR #71)1-41-41-4N/A4-01-34
Cho Daesong (WR #141)Loss (unverified)2-41-40-4N/A0-45

The final method to determine who would go to the Olympics was to assign a player five points for winning a round robin, four points for winning second, three points for winning third, two points for winning fourth, and one point for winning fifth. The final results across both round robins were thus given by:

1st RR Record1st RR Points2n RR Record2nd RR PointsTotal PointsFinal Ranking
Jeoung Youngsik2-242-2373
Lee Sangsu3-153-1491
An Jaehyun2-234-0582
Lim Jonghoon2-221-3244
Cho Daesong1-310-4125

Although Jeoung, An, and Lim all had 2-2 records in the first round robin, the final rankings for the round robin went Jeoung second, An third, and Lim fourth based on the number of games won in the three way tie. Thus, An only had three points in the first round robin, allowing Lee to eke out a 9-8 advantage in tournament points and qualify for the Olympics. In an ironic twist of fate for An (who was undefeated against Jeoung and Lee), had the round robin only consisted of Jeoung, Lee, and An, then An would have won the qualification event as he was undefeated against both Jeoung and Lee.

Note: in our previous recap of An Jaehyun’s victory over Lee Sangsu made the incorrect assumption that final rankings would be determined by overall record and as a result stated that An Jaehyun controlled his own destiny. While An did eventually tie Lee for best overall match record and held the head-to-head tiebreaker, the ranking system described above ended up favoring Lee.

The final spot in the Olympics will be determined by coach’s selection (likely sooner than later) and will only play in the team event. Korea likely will select Jeoung for seeding purposes as they fight with Germany and Japan for the second seed and a guarantee to not play China until the finals in the team event. Selecting Jeoung over An also puts Korea in a comfortable position to hold at least a fourth seed, thus avoiding China until at least the semi-finals and giving themselves a path to a medal without defeating China.

One of the downsides of the round-robin format is the potential for anti-climatic finishes. This was the case for Day 4 of the Olympic trials as Jeoung had already been eliminated from contention by the time he played his final match with Lee. As a result, there will be no match recap in today’s post.

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