Category Archives: tournament preview

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

1) Offensive Shot: The Floater

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

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

2) Offensive Shot: The Surprise Block

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

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

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

3) Offensive Shot: The Surprise Backhand Loop

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

4) Offensive Shot: The Forehand Loop

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

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

5) Defensive Shot: The Shovel

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

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

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

6) Defensive Shot: The Chop

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

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

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

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WTT Star Contender Early Round Preview

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The qualification draw of WTT Star Contender has completed, and WTT has now released the main draw. We take a look at which players and early round match-ups to keep an eye on following the results of the WTT Contender event.

Following the controversy of WTT’s change in the rules for the draw, let us go over what we know about the system again. ITTF appears to have asked WTT, whose executives appear to largely have a background in tennis, to essentially copy the professional tennis world tour in almost all aspects, including seeding.

First, the top two seeds are placed on opposite sides of the brackets. WTT hasn’t been clear about how seeds three and four are drawn, but we do know that they will each face a top two seed in the semi-finals (unless there is an upset along the way). Seeds five through eight are then treated equally and each randomly assigned a top four seed to play in the quarter-finals.

After that, nobody really seems to know what is going on. In WTT Contender, all players outside of the top eight were treated as unseeded players, resulting in some match-ups between two top-16 players in the round of 32. WTT Star Contender, which has 48 players instead of 32, appears to have given top-16 players a bit more respect as it seems that only players in the bottom 32 have to play a round of 64 match.

In the case of WTT Contender, WTT later released a video stating (for the most part) how their draw was done, and hopefully they do something similar for WTT Star Contender. Having set the draw confusion aside, let us now take a look at the actual draw and highlight interesting players, storylines, and match-ups in the earlier rounds.

Men’s Singles

Can Hugo Calderano take back the Olympic fourth seed from Lin Yun-Ju?

The most compelling storyline in the men’s singles is the race for the Olympic fourth seed. After Lin Yun-Ju reached the finals and Calderano was upset in the quarter-finals in WTT Contender, Lin now holds a narrow lead over Calderano in the world rankings. This means that if both players suffer early round upsets, Lin would be in position to have the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics, and with it the guarantee not to play any Chinese players until the semi-finals.

However, neither player plans to be upset in the first round, and Calderano still controls his own destiny as he can retake the Olympic fourth seed from Lin by beating him in the semi-finals. Although this storyline could likely be better classified as a late round storyline, it is important for both players to avoid being upset in the first few rounds. As a reminder, if both players suffer early upsets, the Lin walks out of Doha with control of the Olympic fourth seed.

Potential 2019 World Championships Semi-Final Rematch…In the Round of 32!

Since WTT appears to have treated top 16 seeds with more respect this time, the early round likely won’t be as chaotic as last time. However, one compelling round of 32 match-up will be a re-match of the 2019 World Championships semi-final between An Jaehyun and Mattias Falck.

Eventual champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov upset Falck in the quarter-finals at WTT Contender, and An Jaehyun lost fairly comfortably to Hugo Calderano in the round of 16. Both players will look to play better in WTT Star Contender, and Falck will get an early test with An. For An, the challenge lies even earlier, as he must first play Benedikt Duda in the round of 64.

Olympic Team Korea vs Japan Semi-Final Preview In the Round of 16

WTT Star Contender will also see two additional top eight seeds that were not present at WTT Contender: Korean stars Jang Woojin and Jeoung Youngsik. Japanese stars Koki Niwa and Jun Mizutani will also be joining the fold as top 16 seeds.

Coincidentally, barring early round upsets, Jeoung will play Koki Niwa in the round of 16 and Jang Woojin will play Jun Mizutani in a preview of a potential Korea-Japan Olympic semi-final. It is very likely that at least one of these two matches would also happen at the Olympics.

So far, the Japanese women have been on a completely different level from the Korean women at WTT Doha, and Jang and Jeoung will be hoping to show that the same is not true for the men.

Women’s Singles

Can the victims of last week’s chaotic draw make deeper runs at WTT Star Contender?

The women’s singles had an extremely chaotic draw at WTT Contender due to the new rules, with top 16 seeds Lily Zhang, Britt Eerland, and Bernadette Szocs having to play respective top-four seeds Kasumi Ishikawa, Mima Ito, and Cheng I-Ching in the first round. All three played quite well, with Zhang and Eerland going the full five games and Szocs landing an upset over Cheng. However, since Szocs lost to the underrated Miyuu Kihara in the next round, Szocs was only rewarded 35 ranking points for her hard works.

If all three players play similarly, or as they would hope better, compared to their performance at WTT Contender, they should expect to make deeper runs and amass more ranking points in the process. If they play to their seeding, they can reach the round-of-16, and if they play like they did last week, they all have opportunities score a round-of-16 upset to reach the quarter-finals. This is particularly true for Eerland and Szocs as they will not have to play a top-four seed until the quarter-finals

The top eight seed in Eerland’s part of the bracket is Suh Hyowon, who has recently been struggling against her lower ranked Korean teammates. Szocs projects to play Jeon Jihee. Both players fell victim to Miyuu Kihara’s sensational run to the semi-finals at WTT Contender and will be looking to redeem themselves. Zhang has a harder draw and is projected to play top seed Mima Ito in the round of 16.

Will Miyuu Kihara and Hina Hayata continue to outperform Miu Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa?

WTT Contender saw three Japanese women make it to the semi-finals, but it wasn’t the Olympic team. Instead Mima Ito was joined by the lower ranked Miyuu Kihara and Hina Hayata. Although Ishikawa/Hirano defeated Kihara/Hayata in the double’s event en route to the women’s double championship title, Kihara and Hayata clearly outperformed their higher ranked national teammates last week.

Hayata in particular upset Kasumi Ishikawa and nearly upset Mima Ito to win the whole event. Hayata will be looking to score another round-of-16 match-up against Cheng I-Ching, which would also benefit Kasumi Ishikawa in the race for the Olympic fourth seed, and Kihara is slated to face Hirano in the round of 16 (although Kihara will first have to pull off an upset in the round of 32). Ishikawa’s early-round draws look more favorable as she does not have to play her teammate or a top seed; she is projected to face off against Elizabeta Samara (WR 34).

Can Team Koala’s top seeds avoid early round upsets this time?

The top eight seeds from Team Koala, the highly vaunted international women’s team at the China Super League consisting of Lily Zhang, Adriana Diaz, Jeon Jihee, Cheng I-Ching, and Doo Hoi Kem, had quite a disappointing WTT Contender performance last week. Despite being top-eight seeds, Diaz and Cheng were both upset in the first round, and Jeon Jihee was upset by Miyuu Kihara in the quarter-finals.

As we mentioned earlier, Cheng will receive and early test in WTT Contender finalist Hina Hayata and Jeon will look to avenge Cheng in a potential round-of-16 match-up against Bernadette Szocs. Adriana Diaz may end up with an even earlier challenge against WTT Contender semi-finalist Yu Mengyu in the round of 32.

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WTT Doha Day 2 Recap and Day 3 Preview

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

WTT Doha has wrapped up day two of action in the men’s and women’s singles event. We summarize the results and highlight matches to watch in Day 3.

Women’s Singles Day 2 Recap

It was a great day for Japan’s lower ranked women and a terrible day for Japan’s Olympic women’s team. as Hina Hayata upset third seed Japanese star Kasumi Ishikawa 3-2 and Miyuu Kihara upset Bernadette Szocs 3-1. Fourth seed Miu Hirano fell to Mengyu Yu deuce in the fifth.

Jeon Jihee took care of business against Maria Tailakova and is now the only top eight seed remaining on the bottom half of the draw.

Suh Hyowon’s struggles against domestic competition continues as Yang Haeun slaughtered her 3-0 to set up a quarterfinal match-up with Mima Ito.

Women’s Singles Day 3 Preview

Top seed Mima Ito and sixth seed Jeon Jihee are now the only remaining seeded players in the tournament. Their quarter-final match-ups are probably most intriguing and provide a twisted preview of a potential Korea vs Japan semi-final in the Olympic team event.

Jeon has a clear path to the finals starting with her quarterfinal against Japan’s Miyuu Kihara (who have outperformed the two lower ranked members of Japan’s Olympic team) on Day 3.

Mima Ito also has a clear path to the finals starting with her quarterfinal match against Korea’s Yang Haeun (who has also outperformed the two lower ranked member of Korea’s Olympics team).

Normally, we aren’t super interested in doubles, but Japan’s Olympic team will face off against Japan’s JV team, which has so far clearly outperformed the Olympic team, in a semi-final between Kasumi Ishikawa/Miu Hirano and Hina Hayata/Miyuu Kihara.

Men’s Singles Day 1 Recap

Calderano defeated An Jaehyun 3-1, including 5-0 runs to close out each of the final three games. A full recap is available here. He will play against former German Bundesliga teammate Simon Gauzy in the quarterfinals.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov saved several game points to win a critical third game against Emmanuel Lebesson and then cruised to a 3-1 victory in the fourth game. He will face Mattias Falck in the quarterfinals, who comfortably beat fellow Swede Kristian Karlsson 3-0 in the round of 16.

In a potential Olympic team semi-final preview, Tomokazu Harimoto dispatched of Lee Sangsu 3-1 and will then face lower ranked Korean Cho Daesong in the quarterfinals.

Lin Yun-Ju appears to be getting back into rhythm as he won comfortably against Sharath Achanta and in the quarterfinals will face off against Quadri Aruna, who eked out a 3-2 win over Joao Geraldo.

Andreas Levenko lost 3-2 to Cho Daesong in a match plagued by officiating controversy and Levenko’s poor sportsmanship. A full recap is can be found here.

Men’s Singles Day 2 Preview

The two more interesting quarter-final matchups are probably Gauzy vs Calderano, which is a potential Olympic quarter-final or round of 16 preview, and Ovtcharov vs Falck, which is also a potential Olympic round of 16 preview.

Where to watch

Matches on Table 2, 3, and 4 will be live streamed on ITTF/WTT’s Youtube Channel, although viewers in certain countries had problems watching them live on Day 1. Full match recordings are expected to be available the next day.

Table 1 will be broadcast on the official World Table Tennis website (subject to media rights restrictions). A free account registration is needed. There is live commentary, but sadly Adam Bobrow is not involved.

Since Table 1 matches are unavailable for viewing if you don’t watch it live, Edges and Nets will be live blogging and providing full recaps of certain Table 1 matches.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated.

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and ITTF’s Youtube Channel.

WTT Doha Day 1 Recap and Day 2 Preview

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

WTT Doha has wrapped up day one of action in the men’s and women’s singles event. We saw top seeds fall or come close to falling in both events.

Women’s Singles Day 1 Recap

In the women’s singles event, second seed Cheng I-Ching (WR 8) lost 3-1 to Bernadette Szocs (WR 26). Szocs just gave Kasumi Ishikawa a massive gift; since Cheng only gets four ranking points from this event, Kasumi Ishikawa will have an easier path to passing Cheng on the world rankings and taking the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics (after all the confusion over WTT’s draw process, the fourth seed may or may not matter greatly). However, Cheng’s current lead in the world ranking is still large enough that Ishikawa still needs to make two deep runs at WTT Doha.

Ishikawa (WR 9) herself almost suffered a first-round upset herself as she was pushed to five games by thirteenth seed Lily Zhang (WR 30). Co-patriot and top seed Mima Ito also received a first round scare, going five games to twelfth seed Britt Eerland (WR 28). Szocs, Zhang, and Eerland were three of the biggest victims of WTT’s sudden decision to only seed the top eight players, because they had to face a top-3 seed instead of a bottom 16 seed as under the previous rules. However, WTT ended up getting what it wanted in the form of three exciting round of 32 matches and one first-round major upset. Hopefully, the round of 16 remains just as exciting.

Elsewhere in the draw, Margaryta Pesotska (WR 32) upset eighth seed Adriana Diaz (WR 19), and sixth seed Feng Tianwei (WR 12) fell to Suthasini Sawettabut (WR 41). A total of three top eight seeds have thus bowed out in the first round of the women’s singles event.

Along with Cheng, the rest of Taiwan’s women’s team also bowed out early; Chen Szu-Yu (WR 25) lost to Suh Hyo-won (WR 21) 3-1, and Jeon Jihee (WR 15) took care of business against Cheng Hsien-Tzu (WR 57).

Women’s Singles Day 2 Preview

While the top seeds all faced tough competition on Day 1, the round of 16 match-ups will be slightly easier for them as they mostly face lower ranked players than in the round of 32. However, there are also plenty of interesting matches among the lower seeds.

Now that Szocs has upset Cheng I-Ching and eliminated the highest ranked player between her and the finals, she will face off against Miyuu Kahara (WR 49), who previously defeated Miu Hirano at the All Japan National championships this January.

Pesotska will continue her push to become a top 16 seed at the Tokyo Olympics (a top 16 seed earns European players auto-qualification into the Olympics) against lower ranked Shan Xiaona (WR 43).

Suh Hyowon (WR 21) will face off against co-patriot Yang Haeun (WR 81). Yang has upset 2021 Olympian and fellow Korean Choi Hyojoo in the qualification round, and she also beat Suh at the Korean Olympic Trials earlier this year. Yang will be looking to extend her good performance in Doha, while Suh gets the opportunity to redeem her abysmal performance at the Korean Olympic Trials, in which she finished near the bottom.

Men’s Singles Day 1 Recap

Liam Pitchford (WR 15) lost to Andreas Levenko (WR 144), who has now pulled off several consecutive upsets starting from the qualification draw. Pitchford suffered a minor hand injury last week that affected his performance in Day 1, but he hopes to be fully recovered by WTT Star Contender. Edges and Nets provided a full recap of the match here.

Players seeded 9-16 who had to play higher seeds did not fare as well as their female counterparts. Tomokazu Harimoto (WR 5) beat Chuang Chih-Yuan (WR 26) 3-0, Simon Gauzy (WR 20) beat Jonathan Groth (WR 30) 3-0, and Lee Sangsu (WR 22) defeated Robert Gardos (WR 24) 3-1.

Elsewhere in the draw, Lin Yun-Ju (WR 7) shared the struggles with the rest of team Taiwan (along with the women’s team and Chuang Chih-Yuan, Chen Chien-An also suffered an early exit in the qualification round) as he was pushed to five games in his first-round match against Benedikt Duda (WR 38). In a weird turn of events, Wang Yang had to default his match to Joao Geraldo due to violations of COVID restrictions.

Men’s Singles Day 2 Preview

Tomokazu Harimoto will play Lee Sangsu in a likely preview of the men’s team semi-final event at the Tokyo Olympics. Harimoto has had a difficult year so far, losing to lower ranked Japanese players both in the All Japan National Championships and the Japanese T-League. A loss to a lower ranked international rival may be an even bigger blow to his confidence.

Cho Daesong (WR 141) will face off against Levenko, and both players have to be excited that they are playing someone outside the top 100 in the round of 16. Cho is only 18, and he had a high profile win over An Jaehyun (WR 39) and pushed Jeoung Youngsik (WR 13) to seven games at the recent Korean Olympic Trials.

An Jaehyun himself also has a history of upsetting higher ranked players, and he looks to extend that history in his round of 16 match-up against Hugo Calderano.

Joao Geraldo (WR 93) gets his first match of the main draw against Quadri Aruna (WR 20). Given how all of Team Taiwan (including Lin) has struggled so far, Aruna has a great opportunity to make a run to at least the semi-finals. However, nothing is worse for a player’s performance than thinking too far ahead in the future.

Lin will also get the chance to get back into groove in his round of 16 match-up against Sharath Achanta (WR 32).

Where to watch

Matches on Table 2, 3, and 4 will be live streamed on ITTF/WTT’s Youtube Channel, although viewers in certain countries had problems watching them live on Day 1. Full match recordings are expected to be available the next day.

Table 1 will be broadcast on the official World Table Tennis website (subject to media rights restrictions). A free account registration is needed. There is live commentary, but sadly Adam Bobrow is not involved.

Since Table 1 matches are unavailable for viewing if you don’t watch it live, Edges and Nets will be live blogging and providing full recaps of certain Table 1 matches. For Day 2, we will be covering An Jaehyun vs Hugo Calderano at 13:00 Greenwich time. Check back our website for more. We were not able to do any live recaps of Day 1 due to issues viewing the live Youtube stream, but expect things to go better this time around.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated.

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and ITTF’s Youtube Channel.

Winners and Losers of China’s Withdrawal From WTT Doha

This post is the sixth post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered seeds 4 and 4 Liu Shiwen (who after the post was published has withdrawn) and Cheng I-Ching. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

By far the biggest storyline hanging over WTT Doha will be China’s last-minute withdrawal from the event and all future international events between now and the Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus concerns. This does not necessarily mean we will not see the Chinese players in action before Tokyo as the China Open may still happen.

We take a look (mainly from a seeding perspective) at who benefits and who suffers from the sudden withdrawal.

Winner: Mima Ito

Barring an epic collapse in the first few rounds of both events, with Sun Yingsha not able to gain ranking points from WTT Doha, Mima Ito will be world ranked number two after the completion of WTT Doha and in full control of the second seed at the Tokyo Olympics. Assuming ITTF continues its current drawing system of treating the third and fourth seed as equals, that would give Ito a 50 percent chance that the two Chinese players meet in the semi-finals, meaning Ito has a clear path to the Olympic finals without having to beat a Chinese star.

That being said, even if Ito does not need to play a Chinese player on the way to the finals in the Olympics, she still needs to take care of business against the likes of Cheng I-Ching and Kasumi Ishikawa, who recently beat Ito at the Japan National Championships. We will see in WTT Doha whether she is ready to take advantage of the golden opportunity that the withdrawal has presented her.

Winner: Hugo Calderano

Barring a major collapse from Tomokazu Harimoto or an epic run from Mattias Falck, which although unlikely are both possibilities, there is effectively a two-way race between Calderano and Lin Yun-Ju (who along with Dimitrij Ovtcharov are actually club teammates now that Calderano has joined Fakel Gazprom Orenburg) for the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics. The fourth seed is incredibly valuable as it ensures that one does not have to play either of the two Chinese stars until at least the semi-finals, so there is a path to an Olympic medal without beating a Chinese player.

The two are so close on the world rankings, that essentially whoever performs better at WTT Doha will be in position for the fourth seed (Calderano keeps the fourth seed if they perform exactly the same at WTT Doha).

Before Xu Xin withdrew from the event, Calderano and Lin entered WTT Doha on equal footing as third and fourth seeds. However, now that Xu Xin is out, Calderano has been upgraded to the second seed. This means that (assuming no upsets happen), Calderano’s semi-final will either be Lin or Mattias Falck while Lin’s semi-final will either be wth Calderano or Harimoto.

If Lin and Calderano play each other in the semi-finals, such a match-up would likely be a play-in for the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics. In such a situation, Calderano doesn’t benefit that much from Xu Xin’s withdrawal, as both Lin and Calderano would control their own destiny. Where Calderano would have an advantage would be if he plays Falck and Lin plays Harimoto, as many would consider Harimoto to be the more difficult opponent.

Although Lin and Calderano are club teammates, it is unclear how much familiarity they have with each other’s games. Based on their recent social media behavior, it seems that Calderano is still training Germany while Lin has been training in China over the last few months.

Losers: Sun Yingsha and Lin Yun-Ju

Ito’s and Calderano’s improved Olympic seeding prospects come at the expense of Sun Yingsha and Lin Yun-Ju. For Lin, it is not a huge disadvantage since it is just a slight change-up in the draws, and Lin should feel confident in his abilities to beat Harimoto anyway.

However, Sun’s inevitable fall to third in the world rankings really hurts her. First, if she plays the Olympic singles, there is a chance that she will have to play another Chinese player in the semi-finals. Even worse, one of Sun’s advantages in the Olympic selection process was that she was higher ranked than Ito and that selecting Sun and Chen Meng would thus ensure that China would hold the top two seeds. However, from an Olympics seeding perspective, Sun now carries no advantage over the likes of Ding Ning, Zhu Yuling, and Wang Manyu.

Winner: Kasumi Ishikawa

Ishikawa needs to do better than Cheng I-Ching in both the WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender event to pass her in the world rankings and put herself in position to take the fourth seed. This previously would have been an extremely difficult task as it likely would have involved beating two players out of Cheng, Ito, Liu Shiwen, or Sun Yingsha in the quarter-finals of each event without losing.

However, without Sun and Liu in the mix, Ishikawa is now a top four seed at WTT Doha. This means that if Ishikawa plays to her seeding, she will reach the semi-finals, where she can either face Cheng for what would almost be a play-in match for the Olympic fourth seed or face Ito, who she recently beat at the Japan National Championships in January. A win against Ito would send Ishikawa to the finals, in which case Ishikawa will have either already outperformed Cheng or will have the chance to outperform Cheng by beating her in the finals for what would also almost be a play-in match for the Olympic fourth seed. Thus, Ishikawa’s chances of stealing the Olympic fourth seed from Cheng have gone way up.

While Ishikawa gets a huge boost from the absence of Liu and Sun, things are also still looking solid for Cheng I-Ching. Cheng still completely fully controls her own seeding destiny and can widen the gap between her and Ishikawa with a pair of wins in the semi-finals/finals over Ishikawa in both WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender.

Loser: Liu Shiwen

After not getting to see Liu Shiwen in the Fall of 2020 due to her injury, fans will need to wait even longer to see Liu Shiwen in action. This prolonged absence will really hurt Liu in the world rankings as a good performance from Kasumi Ishikawa could drop Liu to number 9 in the world, which would put her as a fifth seed in the Olympic women’s singles behind Ito, Ishikawa, Cheng I-Ching, and the other Chinese player.

If Liu does not get the chance to pass Ishikawa again in the China Open, it is hard to see China selecting her to play at the women’s singles event. Such a low-seeded Chinese player at the Olympics would be unprecedented, and China could end up with a quarter-final China vs China match-up on their hands if that were to happen. That would give China a maximum of one medal, a result they almost certainly want to avoid.

Furthermore, Liu has lost her two most recent matches with Mima Ito. Granted they were in 2018, but coaches would likely want to see how she plays against Ito before selecting her for the Olympic team. Without the chance to prove her case at WTT Doha, Liu Shiwen’s Olympic hopes may now almost completely hinge on her performance at the China Open (which may or may not happen).

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated.

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.

WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 5: Cheng I-Ching and Liu Shiwen

Liu Shiwen 2019 WTTC

This post is the fifth post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered seeds 5 through 8 in the men’s singles event: Jeong Youngsik, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Jang Woojin, and Mattias Falck. Today’s post will cover the third and fourth seeds (Liu Shiwen and Cheng I-Ching, respectively) of the women’s singles event. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

Update: China’s withdrawal from WTT Doha 2021 makes a lot of this information out of date.

We take a look at Cheng I-Ching’s race with Kasumi Ishikawa for the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics, Liu Shiwen’s campaign to represent China in the women’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics, and how WTT Doha factors into both of these storylines.

4 Seed Cheng I-Ching

Cheng I-Ching (WR 8) enters WTT Doha 2021 as the fourth seed. She will be looking to do better than her post-pandemic performances in the ITTF Grand Finals and World Cup, where she beat Wu Yue (WR 31) and Adriana Diaz (WR 19) but was upset by Han Ying (WR 21) 4-2 and lost to Wang Manyu (WR 4) 4-1.

As mentioned in our previous post, if the Olympics were held today, Cheng would be the fourth seed in the women’s singles event. Cheng’s top priority these next few months is making sure that Kasumi Ishikawa doesn’t pass her on the world rankings to take the fourth seed in Tokyo. Ishikawa will most likely be unable to do so immediately after this tournament, but Cheng should do her best to advance far in Qatar and deny Ishikawa the chance to pass her in a future tournament (such as a potential China Open).

From an Olympics seeding perspective, a Cheng vs Ishikawa match-up in the quarterfinals or semifinals (or perhaps even the finals) would thus be one of the highest stakes match-ups of the women’s singles event. Cheng and Ishikawa’s games complement each other very well in generating highlights. Cheng tends to take a step back and hit harder, and the extra space gives Ishikawa enough time to put in increasingly impressive blocks as Cheng hits increasingly more powerful and/or well-placed shots as seen in the point shown below from their seven-game thriller last year in Hungary.

Cheng’s matches in rounds after Ishikawa is eliminated are less important to her, as there is pretty much no chance that Cheng will pass Ito for the second seed in Tokyo. However, a win against Ito would break Cheng’s three match losing streak to her and would put her in a better place mentally in a potential future match-up in Tokyo. Since Cheng is one of China’s biggest threats to an Olympic medal in the singles event, if Cheng is able to upset Liu Shiwen or Sun Yingsha, that may very well be enough to tip the balance away from that player representing China in the women’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics.

3 Seed Liu Shiwen

Reigning World Champion Liu Shiwen (WR 7) enters WTT Doha as the third seed. Her low world rank (by her standards) is not due to losing, but rather due to the fact that she has not appeared in international competition since the pandemic due to an injury that sidelined her up until December. One of the bigger storylines of WTT Doha will be seeing whether Liu Shiwen still looks bothered by her injury. However, Liu’s injury recovery may be overshadowed by perhaps the biggest storyline of the women’s singles event in WTT Doha and beyond: can Sun or Liu make the better case for a spot to represent China in the women’s singles event in Tokyo?

While the Chinese National Team selection process is always a mystery, there are two major factors that viewers should be able to follow along with: seeding and performance against international competition.

Olympic Seeding

The current seeding situation heavily favors Sun. If Sun and Chen Meng are selected, then if the Olympics were held today Ito would be the third seed, and China would have a guaranteed path to sweeping gold and silver. However, if Liu and any other top Chinese player are selected, then Ito would be a top-two seed, setting up a potential China-China clash in the semi-finals that would result in at best a gold and bronze medal for them.

Due to her injury absence, Liu trails Mima Ito by so much in the world rankings that Liu will certainly be unable to pass Ito after WTT Doha regardless of the results. However, if Ito finishes ahead of Sun in both WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender events (e.g. Ito finishes second and Sun loses in the semi-finals or Ito finishes first and Sun finishes second), then Ito will pass Sun for the World Rank #2 spot and take control of the second seed at Tokyo Olympics. Liu may secretly hope for this situation as it would wipe away the seeding advantage that Sun has over Liu.

Performance Against International Competition

At the end of the day, silver and bronze are just icing on the cake for China, and the real prize remains the gold medal. If Liu shows she is better able to take care of business against international competition than Sun, coaches may still pick her even if she gets screwed over by the seeding situation. On the other hand, if Liu suffers an early upset, it will be up to the coaches to determine how much patience to show towards her injury recovery.

Liu is an undefeated 12-0 against Kasumi Ishikawa and 8-0 against Cheng I-Ching, who will almost certainly in some order be the fourth and fifth seed in Tokyo, and Liu has never even needed to go to a deciding seventh game against them. Both of these players have beaten Sun before (although Ishikawa has lost six straight so Sun since her last and only victory over Sun), and if they are able to pull of another upset against Sun or give her a scare, that will work in Liu’s favor.

Liu’s biggest hurdle is Mima Ito, who is likely regarded by China as the biggest threat to their gold medal aspirations. Ito actually has a winning record against Liu, but their most recent match was in 2018. Things will likely be different this time around. In 2018, the Chinese scouting resources were more focused on Miu Hirano, who had a sensational performance throughout 2017, and perhaps even Ishikawa, who was ranked in the top five, while Ito was only top ten at the time. Reflective of the lack of preparedness, in a live commentary coach Liu Guoliang bemoaned Liu Shiwen’s complete inability to handle Ito’s banana flick with the pips (as shown below).

Mima Ito’s Banana Flick with the pips

Liu Guoliang felt that the best option would be to serve short to Ito’s forehand (as shown in the first point below), but he further noted that Liu Shiwen lacked confidence to reliably serve short to Ito’s forehand. As a result, Liu served almost exclusively long to the backhand, even if that meant allowing Ito to step around for the forehand smash (shown in the second point below).

Liu Shiwen wins a point off the short serve to the forehand and then a long serve to the backhand versus Mima Ito.

After more than two years, during which Ito has become the clear-cut biggest threat to Chinese dominance, Liu will presumably have focused on developing serves to play to Ito’s weaknesses and received training on how to deal with Ito’s backhand. However, as Liu Guoliang mentioned in his commentary, executing the short serve to the forehand during training, which the whole national team should be able to do in their sleep, is much easier than in high-pressure matches.

Unless it is clear her injury is bothering her, in which case she may have bigger problems to worry about, Liu likely cannot afford another loss to Ito in Qatar. In principle, an ideal situation for Liu’s Olympic selection hopes would be for her to wipe the floor with Ito and then for Ito to beat Sun. However, due to the way the seeding works out, the only way for Sun and Ito to play each other is for Liu to lose one of them, which she certainly does not want.

Liu Shiwen’s Ideal Draw

It is unfortunate that ITTF’s nationality caps have placed the reigning World Champion in a situation where she may have to hope for her teammate to fail to increase her chances at competing in Tokyo, but that may end up being the case if Liu draws Ito in the semi-finals and Cheng draws Sun.

On the other hand, if Liu draws Sun in the semi-finals, then Liu will completely control her destiny regarding the seeding situation. Two wins over Sun in the semi-finals and two dominant wins over Ito in the finals would deliver the second seed to Ito and allow Liu to show that she can be trusted to defeat Ito and bring China the gold medal in Tokyo. Hence, Edges and Nets would find a Liu vs Sun and Cheng vs Ito semi-final most compelling.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over seeds 3 and 4 in the men’s singles event. It will be posted on Wednesday, February 24 (North American timezone). The next article has been delayed to Thursday, February 25 due to the China’s sudden decision to withdraw from WTT Doha.

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.

WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 4: Men’s Singles Seeds 5 Through 8

Jang Woojin WTT Macau

This post is the fourth post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered seeds 5 through 8 in the women’s singles event: Jeon Jihee, Feng Tianwei, Miu Hirano, and Kasumi Ishikawa. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

The full list of players set to play at WTT Doha appears to now be set in stone. In today’s post we take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the men’s singles event (Jeoung Youngsik, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Jang Woojin, and Mattias Falck) at WTT Doha, how they’ve played since the ITTF restart after the pandemic, what is at stake for them at Qatar, and their potential quarterfinal match-ups. The players in the top 20 of the world rankings who will participate in the WTT Star Contender event (the second one scheduled from March 8-13) are:

SeedNameWorld Rank
1Xu Xin2
2Tomokazu Harimoto5
3Hugo Calderano6
4Lin Yun-Ju7
5Mattias Falck8
6Jang Woojin11
7Dimitrij Ovtcharov12
8Jeoung Youngsik13
9Liam Pitchford15
10Patrick Franziska16
11Koki Niwa17
12Jun Mizutani18
13Simon Gauzy20

Eight out of these thirteen players will also play WTT Contender. The five who will not play are Jang Woojin, Jeoung Youngsik, Patrick Franziska, Koki Niwa, and Jun Mizutani. Let us now take a closer look at seeds five through eight.

8th Seed Jeoung Youngsik

Feb 21 Update: Jeoung Youngsik has been selected for the Olympic Team event. This decision was made before the start of WTT Doha. Analysis in this section may be out of date.

Jeoung Youngsik played decently well in the post-pandemic World Cup last November. He upset Hugo Calderano before losing to national teammate Jang Woojin 4-2 in the quarterfinals. However, things have gone downhill since. He lost badly to Fan Zhendong at the ITTF Grand Finals. In the Korean Olympic Trials earlier this month, he went a winless 0-4 against Lee Sangsu and An Jaehyun, failing to qualify for the Olympic singles event.

However, at the time of this post, the Korean national team does not appear to have announced who will join Lee Sangsu and Jang Woojin in representing Korea in the Olympic team event, meaning Jeoung still has a chance to go to Tokyo. The coach’s selection appears to largely be a two-way race between Jeoung and An Jaehyun.

There are certain factors working in Jeoung’s favor despite his poor performance at the Korean Olympic Trials. First, Jeoung has a higher world rank. Second, he and Lee are a familiar doubles pair who won their doubles match against Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun at the 2019 World Team Cup.

Coaches may also be willing to show Jeoung some grace considering that WTT Doha will mark the end of Jeoung’s roughly year and a half long mandatory military service for Korea, during which he has had to do a non-trivial amount of duty and training. Between the conclusion of WTT Doha and Tokyo, Jeoung will be able to devote himself 100 percent to table tennis without worrying about military duties.

While more focus and hours at the table for the next few months does not necessarily translate directly to better success in the competition, there is reason to be optimistic. Jeoung’s game is not as explosive and does not rely on extremely fast footspeed as much as some of his younger Korean teammates like An or Jang do. He instead relies more on keeping a stable position and anticipating the position of his opponent and the ball (like in the point shown below). Intuitively speaking, one may expect that such a style would benefit more from increased training time compared to a style that relies more on raw physical athleticism.

Although it does not look like Jeoung has lightning-quick footspeed, his stability and anticipation allow him to get to where he needs to be.

That being said, An and Jeoung both get the chance to strengthen their cases to the coaches in Doha. For Jeoung, this means that at minimum he must avoid early upsets, especially to German rival Patrick Franziska and Japanese rivals Jun Mizutani and Koki Nowa.

After taking care of business in the earlier rounds, if Jeoung is able to pull off a big upset against Harimoto or Xu Xin, that may be enough to sway the coaches to pick Jeoung to represent Korea at the Olympic team event. In particular, one of An’s arguments for making the team may be that he has beaten Harimoto recently. Jeoung can neutralize that argument by defeating Harimoto himself. Hence, Edges and Nets would pick Harimoto to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Jeoung.

7th Seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Since the restart after the pandemic, Dimitrij Ovtcharov posted a 4-3 win against Liam Pitchford in the World Cup before losing in the quarterfinals of the World Cup to Ma Long and to Lin Yun-Ju in the first round of the ITTF Grand Finals.

Lin has now won the last four meetings between the two in international competition dating back to 2018. In their match-up at the 2020 Grand Finals, Lin was quite clearly faster than Ovtcharov and won virtually all the longer rallies. Lin and Ovtcharov are actually teammates (and will soon be joined by Hugo Calderano) at the Russian club Fakel Gazprom Orenburg and are thus deeply familiar with each other’s game. This familiarity may be why Lin seemed to have almost no problem handling Ovtcharov’s serves. He confidently landed chiquita after chiquita to Ovtcharov’s elbow to set up an ensuing fast rally even when the serve was wide to Lin’s forehand.

Although Ovtcharov is most well known for his spinny backhand and tomahawk serves, one serve that he has found quite useful even against Ma Long is a short dead serve with his backhand that looks like something any noob at the local club could serve. He doesn’t use the serve often, but it has its uses when his opponent is not in rhythm or may be emotionally tight. The sudden lack of spin doesn’t give the opponent anything to borrow, and the opponent may be hesitant or unable to land powerful shots as seen in these two match points that Ovtcharov saved against Lin last November (shown below).

Ovtcharov saves two match points with a short dead serve.

Although Ovtcharov and Lin most likely exchange wins against each other during training, the lopsided record in international competition towards Lin would give Lin a mental edge should these two meet in the quarterfinals in Tokyo. Ovtcharov can break this edge by scoring a victory, even if only in a three out of five, against his club teammate at WTT Doha. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Lin to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Ovtcharov.

If the Olympics were held today, Ovtcharov would be the ninth seed in the men’s singles event in the Tokyo Olympics behind the two Chinese players, Calderano, Lin, Mattias Falck, Jang Woojin, and Timo Boll. However, since Boll is not playing in Qatar at all and only leads Ovtcharov by a small margin, unless Ovtcharov suffers a pair of major upsets in both events, he has enough ranking points to comfortably pass Boll in the April world rankings and put himself in the position to be at least the eighth seed in Tokyo. Note that although Ovtcharov has been confirmed to play in the team event Tokyo Olympics, we have not been able to confirm whether he or Patrick Franziska will play in the singles event alongside Timo Boll.

Jang, who is ranked directly above Ovtcharov, will not be playing WTT Contender. Hence, if both players play to their seeding or even if Ovtcharov loses in the round of 16 in one event, Ovtcharov will pass Jang on the April world rankings. To maintain his lead over Ovtcharov in the world rankings, Jang must pull off more upsets than Ovtcharov does in the WTT Star Contender event. However, for the purposes of Olympic seeding there is minimal difference between being the eighth seed and the seventh seed.

6th Seed Jang Woojin

Jang Woojin arguably had the best post-pandemic performance out of all non-Chinese men. He split a pair of matches with Harimoto and upset Lin Gaoyuan. In both the Grand Finals and the World Cup, he lost to Fan Zhendong by a comfortable margin. However, visually the game felt closer than the score may have indicated. Jang lead in several games that he lost, and it would not be implausible for him to upset a player like Fan in the near future.

With Jang’s recent performances against Harimoto, Korea may now feel as comfortable as they are going to get about their chances of defeating Japan in the Tokyo Olympics. Although they may not dare to say it aloud, Korea may now be setting its eyes on slaying the giant that is China. There are glimpses of potential such as Jang’s win over Lin Gaoyuan and Lee Sangsu/Jeoung Youngsik’s win over Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun, and Jang could potentially add to that with a fresh upset over Xu in the quarterfinals in Qatar.

Stylistically, a match-up between Jang and a left-handed player like Xu is always interesting as it mixes up two of the key dynamics associated with their styles. First, Jang loves stepping around the corner for the forehand, even in situations where most other players would prefer to use the backhand (as shown below). Although Jang still steps around quite frequently even against left-handed players, the threat of a lefty’s cross-court backhand to his wide forehand may force him to adjust how he approaches his footwork.

Jang Woojin steps around very aggressively during rallies.

Second, the ease with which left-handed players can serve to the wide forehand often disrupts players from executing the chiquita smoothly. However, possibly in order to stay in position to use his forehand for the next shot, Jang uses the chiquita relatively infrequently compared to others. He instead prefers to use a short forehand push, even if it means allowing the opponent to open more often than if he used the chiquita (as shown below).

Jang Woojin prefers the short forehand push over the chiquita. Even if it means that the opponent opens first, he can get the counterloop back in.

Jang’s preference for the short forehand push over the chiquita thus mitigates one of the key adjustments players must make against left-handed players. These stylistic changes and a taste of a Korea vs China Olympic team match-up make Edges and Nets consider Xu to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Jang.

Jang has also been confirmed to represent Korea in the men’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics. Similar to Ovtcharov, barring a massive early round upset, Jang should be in a position to pass Timo Boll on the April world rankings and maintain his position to be a top-eight seed in Tokyo.

5th Seed Mattias Falck

Falck had decent results at the two major post-pandemic ITTF events last year. He took care of business against Simon Gauzy (WR 20) and Wong Chun Ting (WR 19) but lost 4-1 to Tomokazu Harimoto and 4-2 to Ma Long.

Edges and Nets has largely chosen to ignore the results at WTT Macau last Fall due to the weird rules (no deuce, three-out-of-five matches, brief coaching every six points, weird draws), the lack of stakes (WTT Macau did not appear to influence world rankings), and the lack of recorded full matches. However, Falck’s 3-1 upset over Xu Xin at WTT Macau (available on Youtube) was such big news that we had to mention it here. The 2019 World Championships finalist will be looking to extend his success to 2021 as he continues to entertain fans and frustrate opponents with his close-to-the-table flat hits from both the backhand and his infamous short pips on his forehand.

Mattias Falck gets wins the point with his signature forehand smash on his way to a 3-1 victory over Xu Xin.

There is currently a four-way race between Falck, Lin, Calderano, and Harimoto for the third and fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics, which provide a guaranteed path to an Olympic medal without having to defeat either of the Chinese top two seeds. In order to pass Lin and Calderano on the April world rankings, Falck needs to outperform Calderano by 372 ranking points and Lin by 273 ranking points in Qatar.

Similar to the case of Kasumi Ishikawa in the women’s singles event, Falck will need to reach the finals in both events in order to pass Lin. This is an extremely difficult task as it means beating either Lin or Calderano (or a player who upset them) twice and then beating Harimoto or Xu Xin (or a player who upset them) twice. If Calderano plays to his seeding and reaches the semi-finals in both events, then Falck would still be unable to catch Calderano even with two finals appearances.

However, if Falck and Calderano meet in the quarterfinals, then Falck will completely control his own Olympic seeding destiny, because a finals appearance by Falck would entail that Calderano lost in the quarterfinals and did not play up to his seeding. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Calderano to be the most interesting quarterfinal match-up for Falck.

The Most Interesting Quarterfinal Draw

Assuming everyone plays to their seeding up to the quarterfinals (which will likely not be the case), in summary here are Edges and Nets’ picks for what would be the most interesting draw:

  • Jeoung Youngsik vs Tomokazu Harimoto
  • Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs Lin Yun-Ju
  • Jang Woojin vs Xu Xin
  • Mattias Falck vs Hugo Calderano

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over seeds 3 and 4 in the women’s singles event. It will be posted on Monday, February 22 (North American timezone).

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.

WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 3: Women’s Singles seeds 5 THROUGH 8

This post is the third post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. Our previous post covered two X-factors in the tournament: Lily Zhang in the women’s singles and An Jaehyun in the men’s singles. An X-factor is a young, exciting but lower ranked player who has the potential to upset some higher ranked players in the tournament and make a deep run. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

The full list of players set to play at WTT Doha appears to now be set in stone. In today’s post we take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the women’s singles event (Jeon Jihee, Feng Tianwei, Miu Hirano, and Kasumi Ishikawa) at WTT Doha, how they’ve played since the ITTF restart after the pandemic, what is at stake for them at Qatar, and their potential quarterfinal match-ups. The players in the top 20 of the world rankings who will participate in the WTT Star Contender event (the second one scheduled from March 8-13) are:

SeedNameWorld Rank
1Sun Yingsha2
2Mima Ito3
3Liu Shiwen7
4Cheng I-Ching8
5Kasumi Ishikawa9
6Miu Hirano11
7Feng Tianwei12
8Jeon Jihee15
9Sofia Polcanova16
10Adriana Diaz18
11Petrissa Solja19

Out of these eleven, everyone but Jeon Jihee, Sofia Polcanova, and Petrissa Solja will also play the WTT Contenders (the first one scheduled from March 3-6) tournament.

8th Seed Jeon Jihee

As we will discuss shortly, Jeon’s quarterfinal match will likely have minimal seeding implications for Tokyo. However, this tournament will still be an important milestone in her campaign for an Olympic medal. If the Olympics were held today, Cheng, Ito, and (if selected to the Chinese team) Sun and Liu would also be among the top four seeds at the Tokyo Olympics, so Jeon’s quarterfinal match in Qatar will also be a potential Olympic quarterfinal preview.

Jeon has never played Cheng in ITTF competition, and winning a matchup in Qatar in what would likely be their only encounter in an ITTF event before the Olympics would give Jeon the mental edge in Tokyo. Jeon has lost to Sun all three times they have played in international competition, most recently at the 2020 World Finals. In their 2020 matchup, Sun largely dominated Jeon’s shots to Sun’s elbow with crisp blocks and hard step around forehand counters. In a future matchup with Sun, in order to have a chance Jeon likely needs to either figure out a way to bother Sun more at the elbow (which foreign players largely struggle to do against Chinese player) or more consistently hit in difficult wide-angle winners like in the point below.

Jeon has played Ito in two four out of sevens in international competition and lost both times, including a recent 4-1 loss post-pandemic at the 2020 World Cup. However, the match was closer than the score may indicate, especially when considering that Jeon struggled quite heavily with returning Ito’s serves. Jeon may be hoping to get another chance to figure out Ito’s serves before a potential quarterfinal match-up in Tokyo. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Ito to be the most exciting quarterfinal opponent for Jeon.

Jeon is currently ranked #15 in the world, and if the Olympics were held today, she would be the eighth seed (behind the two unconfirmed Chinese players, Mima Ito, Cheng I-Ching, Kasumi Ishikawa, Feng Tianwei, and Doo Hoi Kem). Jeon can pass Doo in the world rankings by reaching the semi-finals, but for the purposes of Olympic seeding it would not make much of a difference as seeds five through eight are typically treated equivalently.

More important for Jeon is to avoid being passed by Sofia Polcanova and falling out of the top eight for Tokyo; this should be a low bar for Jeon to clear as even if she suffers a relatively big upset in the round of 32 and Polcanova outperforms her seeding and reaches the quarterfinals, Jeon will still maintain a slim lead in the world rankings come April. Even if Polcanova makes a deep run to the semifinals, a quarterfinal finish by Jeon, meaning that she played to her seeding, will be enough to keep her just ahead of Polcanova in the April rankings.

7th Seed Feng Tianwei

Feng Tianwei’s post-pandemic performance has been relatively disappointing so far, being upset by Lily Zhang (WR #30) in the world cup (whom Feng later beat at WTT Macau) and Petrissa Solja in the Grand Finals. At age 34, Feng has slowed down a bit even compared to a couple years ago and had trouble keeping up with Zhang in the faster and longer rallies at the world cup. However, as arguably the greatest non-Chinese player over the last decade, her mind still remains sharp as she can still win shorter points by hitting sharp angles to where the opponent is not expecting or able to reach.

Feng currently holds a world ranking of 12 and would be the sixth seed if the Tokyo Olympics were held today. The stakes for Feng are similar to those for Jeon: Feng is almost certainly locked into a fifth to eighth seed in Tokyo, but despite the lack of stakes with regards to seeding, WTT Doha will provide Feng with perhaps her final look at Sun, Ito, Liu, or Cheng before potentially facing one of them in the quarterfinals in what will likely be Feng’s final Olympic games. This would be particularly valuable for Feng since she did not get to play any of these top seeds in international competition since the post-pandemic restart due to her upsets against Zhang and Solja.

Feng’s upset over Liu Shiwen more than ten years ago at the 2010 World Team Championships remains arguably the most iconic moment of Feng’s career, and it would be fun to see a vintage rematch between Feng and Liu for old time’s sake. The two have not played each other since the Korean Open five years ago, which Liu won 4-1. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Liu to be the most interesting quarterfinal opponent for Feng.

6th Seed Miu Hirano

Hirano has had a rough last couple of years, including losses to Hina Hayata (WR #29), Lily Zhang (WR #30), and Han Ying (WR #22). She did not participate in either the post-pandemic World Tour Finals or the World Cup in the Fall of 2020. Fans caught a brief glimpse of Hirano in the 2021 Japanese national championships this January, but she lost 4-0 to Miyuu Kihara (WR #49) in the round of 16.

Hirano is the highest ranked player in this tournament who is confirmed to not play in the Olympic singles in Tokyo (although Liu Shiwen or Sun Yinghsa may eventually join this list). However, Hirano will be playing for Japan in the team event, in which China and Japan are expected to meet in the finals barring a herculean performance from a star from a third country.

If China sends the same squad to Tokyo that they did to the 2019 World Team Cup, a quarter-final between Hirano and Liu could be both a rematch of Liu’s dominant 3-0 win over Hirano at the 2019 World Team Cup and a potential preview of the Olympic team finals. Although Liu appeared to handle everything Hirano threw at her in their match at the 2019 World Team Cup, Hirano showed a brief flash of competitiveness in the second game and will likely hope to maintain that performance through five games in Qatar (recall quarterfinal matches will be three out of fives).

Another potentially more interesting quarterfinal match-up for Hirano would be with Sun Yingsha. This would also be a potential preview for the Olympic finals in the team event, and if Hirano plays the role of spoiler and defeats Sun in the quarterfinals, she may end up providing the difference needed for her national teammate Mima Ito to take the number two spot both in the world rankings and in Olympic seeding. Also keeping things interesting is that Sun and Hirano have never played each other in any international women’s event (though Sun has previously beaten Hirano in junior competition). Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Sun to be the most interesting quarterfinal opponent for Hirano.

If Hirano faces Cheng I-Ching in the quarterfinals and pulls off an upset, that would also help her teammate Kasumi Ishikawa in the race for the fourth seed in the Olympic women’s singles event. However, it would likely be more compelling both for the fans and for Ishikawa if Ishikawa herself gets the chance to face off against Cheng in the quarterfinals.

Even if Hirano is unable to pull off an upset in the quarterfinals, Qatar provides her with a chance to break her string of recent losses to lower ranked players, and if she avoids being upset and bows out in the quarterfinals in both events, she will still be able to reestablish herself as a top ten player in the April world rankings.

5th Seed Kasumi Ishikawa

Ishikawa had mediocre results in the Fall of 2020 after the pandemic restart. She split a pair of matches with Suh Hyowon (WR #21) in the world cup and grand finals and then was slaughtered by Sun Yingsha at the world cup. Similar to the case with Jeon, it looked like Ishikawa’s shots to the body barely bothered Sun, and she needed difficult wide angle winners to score points.

2021 has started better for Ishikawa as she defeated Mima Ito to win the Japanese National Championship for the first time in five years. Ito was actually leading 3-1, but Ishikawa played incredibly well to stage the comeback, countering many of Ito’s signature fast smashes back with good speed and placement as seen in the first two points of game 7 (shown below).

Ishikawa is within striking distance of Cheng I-Ching on the world rankings list; by April, the 2020 ranking points will be weighted such that Ishikawa will trail Cheng by 360 points. There are up to 1000 points up for grabs at WTT Doha. If she can pass Cheng then she will secure a top four seed at the Olympics, presenting her with a path to an Olympic medal without having to defeat a Chinese player.

The situation favors Cheng, because as a top four seed in Qatar, she has a guaranteed path to the semi-finals without playing any of the higher ranked Sun, Ito, or Liu. If both players play to their seeding, then Cheng will extend her world ranking lead over Ishikawa. In order to pass Cheng, Ishikawa likely needs to reach the finals in both WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender.

Despite Ishikawa’s recent win over Ito, she may be hoping for a quarterfinal match-up with Cheng in both events in Qatar, as such a draw would give Ishikawa the most control over her seeding at the Tokyo Olympics. Even if Cheng loses in the quarterfinals (whether to Ishikawa or someone else), Ishikawa will likely either need to make it to the finals or outperform Cheng in another tournament between now and Tokyo in order to secure the fourth seed in the Olympics; however, a Cheng vs Ishikawa quarterfinal may be as close to a play-in for the fourth seed as we can get. Hence, Edges and Nets would consider Cheng to be the most interesting quarterfinal opponent for Ishikawa.

The Most Interesting Quarterfinal Draw

Assuming everyone plays to their seeding up to the quarterfinals (which will likely not be the case), in summary here are Edges and Nets’ picks for what would be the most interesting draw:

  • Kasumi Ishikawa vs Cheng I-Ching
  • Miu Hirano vs Sun Yingsha
  • Feng Tianwei vs Liu Shiwen
  • Jeon Jihee vs Mima Ito

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over the list of men who are ranked in the top 20 who have entered the tournament and will take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the Men’s Singles event. It will be posted on Wednesday, February 17 (North American timezone).

Unless stated otherwise, all images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.

WTT Doha 2021 Preview Part 2: X-Factors Lily Zhang and An Jaehyun

This post is the second post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 WTT Middle East Hub coming March 3-13. A summary of all of Edges and Nets’ coverage of WTT Doha can be found here.

Our previous post in our preview series of the upcoming 2021 WTT Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) on March 3-13 covered the logistics and format of the event. Notably, the event will be split into two back to back tournaments named WTT Contender and WTT Star Contender, and all matches through the quarterfinals are expected to be three out of fives.

Today’s post goes over one X-factor in each of the Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles events. An X-factor is a young promising but lower ranked player (outside the top 20) who has an exciting playing style, has previously upset a higher seeded player before, and has high potential to upset one or more higher seeded players in the upcoming event. We note past high profile upsets by Lily Zhang and An Jaehyun, what part of their game to watch out for, and what is at stake for them in Qatar.

Women’s Singles: Lily Zhang

Lily Zhang (WR #30) will be playing the WTT Contender event as the 15th seed and the WTT Star Contender event as the 18th seed. Zhang has an exciting style of play characterized by her signature rapid backhand rallies and her aggressive short forehand flicks. She is 24 years old, but her professional career so far is shorter than one may expect from her age as she went to college in the United States, where she only played part time, for several years before committing to playing professional table tennis full time.

Zhang has a history of upsetting top players in ITTF events, most notably in her run to the 2019 World Cup semifinals in which she defeated Miu Hirano (WR #11) in the round of 16 and Sofia Polcanova (WR #16) in the quarterfinals. Since the world circuit restart after the pandemic, she has extended her string of upsets with a win over Feng Tianwei (WR #12) in the world cup and a (three-of-out-of-five) win over Petrissa Solja (WR #19) in WTT Macau. The final two points of Zhang’s 4-3 victory over Hirano in 2019 encapsulate what makes her so exciting and dangerous: an aggressive forehand flick for the winner on the serve return followed by a 12-shot rapid backhand rally.

Lily Zhang displays her signature forehand flick and rapid backhand counter in the final two points of her 4-3 win over Miu Hirano at the 2019 World Cup.

Zhang will be representing the United States in the women’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympics. Since ITTF caps the Olympics singles events to two players per country (affecting the Chinese and Japanese players ranked higher than Zhang) and WR #91 Shin Yubin rather than WR #21 Suh Hyowon will be representing Korea, Zhang would be at worst the seventeenth seed if the Tokyo Olympics were held today. Securing a top 16-seed would guarantee that Zhang does not have to play either of the Chinese stars, who continue to dominate the rest of the world, until at least the round of 16. Her chances of playing a Chinese player before the quarterfinals would also shrink from 37.5% to 25%.

The world ranking points amassed up to December will only be weighted 60 percent by early April (after Qatar but presumably before the next ITTF event), so Zhang will have 4050 world ranking points by then. The player directly ranked above her who is eligible to play in the Olympics is Minnie Soo (4158 points, WR #28), who fortunately for Zhang, will not be playing in Qatar. Zhang can pass Soo by pulling off two upsets in any combination of the two events, which would give Zhang a minimum of 4175 points. This would be enough for Zhang to be at least the 16th seed if the Olympics were held in April.

Men’s Singles: An Jaehyun

An Jaehyun (WR #39) enters the WTT Contender event as the 24th seed and the WTT Star Contender event as the 30th seed. The 21 year old is most well known for his 2019 World Championship run, in which he was a blown 7-2 lead from defeating Mattias Falck (WR #8) to advance to the finals. On his way to the semi-finals An defeated Wong Chun Ting (WR #19), Tomokazu Harimoto (WR #5), and Jang Woojin (WR #11). Due to his low world rank relative to other Korean men, An was not invited to any of the post-pandemic ITTF events in 2020. However, fans caught a glimpse of An in the Korean Olympic trials in early February, in which he defeated Jeoung Youngsik (WR # 13) and Lee Sangsu (WR #22) twice each.

An keeps the game exciting by taking high-risk high-reward step around forehand kills as seen in the first point of the video below. Even when An miscalculates and the ball is out of position but still near his backhand or center, his footwork is often quick enough to either recover and still get the instant kill or put up a softer loop and then get back in position to turn the rally into his advantage as shown in the second point of the video below.

An Jaehyun steps around twice in a row. The first point ends in an instant kill. The second point doesn’t start as well as he may have hoped, but he recovers his position to win the point in the ensuing rally.

However, since An often steps around before his opponent has even contacted the ball, a perceptive opponent can also sometimes put the ball to An’s forehand and leave him completely unable to touch the ball as seen in the video below.

An Jaehyun steps around early and Mattias Falck burns him with a backhand down the line.

Although An held an undefeated 4-0 record against top seeds Lee Sangsu and Jeoung Youngsik at the Korean Olympic trials, An’s 2-2 record against Lim Jonghoon and Cho Daesong and a quirk in Korean Table Tennis Association’s scoring rules resulted in Lee Sangsu winning the trials and qualifying for the second men’s singles spot alongside Jang Woojin, giving An’s fans all over Korea a massive case of Second Lead Syndrome. Since An will not play in the men’s singles event in Tokyo, there are no immediate seeding consequences for any major tournaments for An due to this tournament.

However, at the time of this writing Korea appears to not yet have made the coaches’ selection for the team event in the Tokyo Olympics. If An Jaehyun makes a deep run in either WTT Contender or WTT Star Contender or upsets Xu Xin or Harimoto (players from what are expected to be the top two seeds China and Japan), the coaches may be willing to overlook An’s low world rank and its seeding implications to pick him for the team event. A deep run from An is very much a possibility, since although An is only seeded 24th, there is a plausible draw (Lee in R32, Jeoung in R16, Jang in QF, Harimoto in SF) in which An makes it to the finals without having to upset a single player that he has not already beaten before in high-profile competition. A pair of finals runs for An, as unlikely as that would be, could potentially send him skyrocketing into the top 30 of the men’s world rankings.

Although Zhang and An carry the potential to pull off major upsets, their low world rank will also give them difficult paths to the finals, and they may be vulnerable to early exits. Edges and Nets will be covering their draws and some of their performances in the early stages of the tournament.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over the list of women who are ranked in the top 20 who have entered the tournament and will take a closer look at seeds five through eight in the Women’s Singles event. It will be posted on Saturday, February 13 (North American timezone).

All images and footage in this post can respectively be found on ITTF’s Flickr page and the ITTV channel.

2021 WTT Doha Preview Part 1: A Further Look At ITTF’s Rebrand Towards WTT

This post is the first post in a series of posts previewing the 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) coming March 3-13. A complete summary of all of our coverage of WTT Doha 2021 can be found at this page.

The 2021 World Table Tennis (WTT) Middle East Hub (also known as the Qatar Open or WTT Doha) will be happening in early March, and we will be releasing a set of blog posts this week going over who is playing, what’s at stake for each of the players, and potential match-ups to watch out for. However, before we get started, today we will take a look at the tournament format and major differences with previous iterations of the Qatar Open. Notably, the event has been split into two tournaments and all matches until the quarterfinals will now be three out of fives instead of four out of sevens.

The Great Rebrand

The first obvious difference with previous years is the name. Why is the tournament now named WTT Middle East Hub instead of the ITTF Qatar Open? The change of the first word from ITTF to WTT is part of ITTF’s massive rebrand from the ITTF World Tour to World Table Tennis (WTT), which as covered in a previous post, consists of a completely different set of events with different names, locations, and formats. The name change may present some growing pains for ITTF, because WTT is a commonly used acronym and table tennis appears to be nowhere near the top search results of WTT on Google (although table tennis may soon become the top result) or Instagram (where #wtt appears to be dominated by tattoo pictures).

The rebrand also consists of redesigning visual aesthetics, which means that the tournament may visually look more like the 2020 WTT Macau event instead of the traditional blue/green tables on red flooring. This visual redesign apparently also includes legalizing pink, violet, green, and blue rubbers starting from October 2021. The goal of this choice is to make the sport more visually colorful and to allow players more customization over their racket setup. The move appears to be mainly geared toward getting more casual players interested in the circuit and was overwhelmingly favored by a super-majority of 75% of world delegates in the 2019 Annual General Meeting. However, top fan comments on Instagram did not respond well to the new colors as more traditional club players appeared to associate the brightly colored rubbers with not taking the game seriously.

Event Format: What is different?

The Hub Consists of Two Separate Tournaments

Why is the event named the Middle East Hub instead of the Qatar Open? The Middle East Hub this year actually consists of two independent tournaments held back-to-back: the WTT Contender tournament and WTT Star Contender tournament. Although ITTF may have originally intended for the hub to span across multiple locations in the Middle East for several weeks, due to the pandemic these two tournaments will be held back-to-back in the same location. The second event, WTT Star Contender, will have more prize money and be worth more ranking points, giving it slightly higher stakes.

Restricting Top Players from Entering

In an effort to give lower ranked players more chances to gain ranking points and shine on the bigger stage, ITTF originally intended to restrict WTT Contender events to only allowing two top-20 players and WTT Star Contender events to only allowing four top-20 players. Another possible benefit would be that this balances the star power across multiple events, so we don’t end up with a situation where all the top stars play in one tournament and then in the next tournament no stars play and the fans there are left watching some lesser known players.

However, this year since everything has been condensed into one event, ITTF has expanded the player pool so that WTT Star Contender will include twelve of the top-20 men and eleven of the top-20 women and WTT Contender will include eight out of the top-20 players in each gender. The format from the round of 64 onward appears to be identical for the two tournaments, so we can view WTT Star Contender as essentially an instant rematch after WTT Contender save for a few extra seeds in the five through twelve range.

Switching to Three Out of Fives for Most Matches

The biggest and likely most controversial change in tournament format is that all doubles matches will now be three out of five and all singles matches except the semi-finals and finals will be three out of five. Note that this change only applies to tournaments in the WTT Contender series and major events such as the World Championships should still be four out of sevens throughout. It is not clear whether ITTF will implement this change in this year’s event in Qatar given the increased number of star players invited. ITTF’s stated reason for the change is that: “These [changes] will reinvigorate competitions by making them fairer, more exciting, more competitive and to give fans the opportunity to see more of their favorite players in action in the main draw.”

While switching from a four out of seven format to a three out of five does make things more competitive and allow different fan-favorite players of different nationalities to advance further in the main draw by increasing the chance of an upset, the change is likely to be viewed as less fair since the increased variance can allow the “worse” player to advance more frequently. Whether it is viewed as exciting depends on the preference of the viewer: a casual fan who enjoys chaos, suspense, and parity may prefer the three out-of-fives but a purist who is more interested in seeing the best players win and build their legacies will likely prefer the four out of sevens.

Like the legalization of brightly colored rubbers, the move seems geared towards increasing engagement among casual fans and fans from parts of the world with weaker players. ITTF appears to be making the gamble that more serious and traditional fans will begrudgingly accept the changes and continue to watch. This assessment by ITTF may likely turn out proving correct, but regardless of one’s opinion of the changes, it will take many fans some getting used to.

If you liked this article, please follow Edges and Nets on Facebook or Instagram to stay updated. The next post in this series will go over X-Factors, meaning lower ranked players with large potential to upset higher seeds, in the tournament and will be posted on Wednesday, February 10 (North American timezone).