However, Ovtcharov gave China a brief scare when he took a 2-1 lead against Fan Zhendong, but Fan was able to stay calm and come back. As Liu Guoliang later remarked, if Ovtcharov had won that, then it would have been 1-1, which would have put China in an uncomfortable position. Based on Liu’s remarks, Fan will almost certainly be back in 2024 as a veteran presence.
Liu Guoliang already has his eyes set towards the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. He stated that while the women’s team is in a position of dominance given the youth of Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu, the men’s team will need to make some adjustments heading into the next Olympic cycle as Ma Long and Xu Xin age into retirement.
Liu in particular praised Sun Yingsha as an idol and role model for the next generation not just in table tennis but all of Chinese athletics. He also praised Chen Meng’s dominance in winning two gold at this Olympic Games, hinting that she may be back for the 2024 Olympics at the age of 31.
Liu also acknowledged the veteran presence of Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning and the impact they have had on the National Team culture. He praised Liu for the journey she took recovering from elbow surgery last Fall, and said although they obviously would rather have won gold in mixed doubles, there is not much to regret since she came out, performed, and gave it her all.
Liu also reflected on his own journey in table tennis, noting that it was his seventh Olympic games. He quipped that when he was a player, he felt that being a player was the most stressful job. Then he became a coach and realized being a coach was the most stressful job. Then he became head coach and then director of the Chinese National Team, and each time he realized that the job was even more stressful.
China defeated Japan 3-0 in the women’s table tennis team event at the Tokyo Olympics to win gold. China breezed through the competition, never dropping even a single individual match during their championship run.
Chen Meng takes her second gold medal of the Olympics, and she noted that the joy she felt for this gold medal was completely different since it was a team medal.
Sun Yingsha again defeated Mima Ito, although this time Ito was at least able to win a game as she lost 3-1. Post-game, Sun remarked, “Every time I compete with her, I can get a lot from it. I also fully prepared for the challenges of the competition. Today, playing against each other again is a brand new challenge!”
After Japan lost, a tearful Ito said, “The final match is over and I am very happy until the end. Of course, if you win it’s better, you will not be satisfied if you lose, but it is still a very happy competition.” Ito walks away from the Olympics with one gold, one silver, and one bronze medal to complete a colorful collection.
Ishikawa added that she was not satisfied either but acknowledged the strength of the Chinese National Team.
Hong Kong defeated Germany to win the bronze medal.
The Olympic table tennis team finals are now set: China will face Japan in the women’s team event and Germany in the men’s team event. China was the top seed in both events, and Japan and Germany were the second seed in their respective events.
China Ready for Japan in the Women’s Finals
The women’s finals match-up is no surprise as China and Japan were heavy favorites to make the finals, and neither country dropped a single individual match en route to the finals. However, the gap between China and Japan may be just as big as the gap between Japan and the rest of the world.
Following her 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Sun Yingsha in the women’s singles semi-finals, Mima Ito said, “What I was doing was not bad, but the results showed that we are not even close.”
“There’s a gulf in class.”
China appears equally confident. Chen Meng dismissed concerns about line-up match-ups, stating that regardless of whichever two of Chen, Sun, and Wang Manyu face Ito, it’s fine either way. Sun added, “I think the competitive state and mental outlook of the three of us are good. The finals are united and we must be confident while preparing for difficulties.”
However, Japan may still steal a victory in the event of a mental collapse by China. Coach Li Sun cautioned, “The key is to see which of the two teams can fight, and who can do it.”
Ovtcharov Makes History As Germany Readies for China
Germany ran the same line-up they did against Taiwan to defeat Japan in the semi-finals. The strategy was clear: have the superior Boll/Franziska team win doubles, have Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov beat up on the other country’s two weaker players, and live with losses to Lin Yun-Ju or Harimoto. The strategy worked perfectly, as Germany is now in the finals despite losing all their matches to Lin and Harimoto.
Ovtcharov has now secured his record sixth Olympic table tennis medal (singles bronze in 2012 and 2020 and team medals in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020). Although Germany’s line-up strategy has been straightforward, the road to the finals has not been easy. Following the win against Japan, Ovtcharov said, “I’m feeling really empty right now, physically and emotionally. It was really, really tough days here.”
While the Japanese women have often been viewed as the biggest threat to Chinese supremacy, the German team believes they have a shot against China. Boll remarked, “If we can be on our peak, all three of us have the skills and the will to win the match. We will definitely go no limits to prove that this is our time.”
Ovtcharov reiterated his belief in the German team on Twitter.
Japan slides Harimoto into doubles, Korea’s young women can’t get it done, and Dimitrij Ovtcharov continues to break Taiwan’s heart. We take a look at the key results from the quarter-final team matchups at the Tokyo Olympics so far. Full bracket and results can be viewed here.
Japanese Men Defeat Sweden 3-1
Japan defeated Sweden 3-1 after making the interesting line-up decision to have Tomokazu Harimoto play doubles with Koki Niwa and have Jun Mizutani at the ace position that plays two singles. Normally, the strongest player, in this case Tomokazu Harimoto, plays the ace position.
Japan has been understandably tight-lipped about the reason for the line-up change. It appears to be somewhat related to lack of confidence in the Mizutani/Niwa double-lefty pairing and trust in Mizutani to take care of singles. It may be possible that Japan for some reason does not have confidence in Harimoto as the ace player or that Japan did not want Harimoto to play Falck, but Japan clearly would not be inclined to reveal such reasons.
Regarding his participation in the doubles, Harimoto gave a response that can be interpreted as vanilla or cryptic: “When I think about my current condition and the team, that is the best [for me to play doubles], so I did my best with the feeling that I would take two games together with the singles.”
The line-up change paid off for Japan as they won the doubles match, which in principle should have been bolstered by Harimoto’s presence. Japan then selected Harimoto to play the third match (i.e. Japan purposely chose Niwa and not Harimoto to play Falck) against Anton Kaellberg. Harimoto won 3-1, giving Japan the 2-1 lead in matches.
Niwa then defeated Falck 3-0 to give Japan the 3-1 victory. Mizutani, who played Falck in the second match, told Niwa that Falck’s forehand was not in good condition, which Niwa said he exploited.
Going into the semi-finals, Niwa said, “I was able to beat the top-ten player in the world ranking. I’m confident.”
Japan will face Germany in the semi-finals in a rematch of the 2016 semi-finals.
Korean Women’s Youth Falter In 3-2 Loss to Germany
Germany defeated Korea 3-2 in the quarter-finals of the women’s team event. Korea opted to place their weakest player, Choi Hyojoo, at the ace position, due to the strength of the Shin Yubin/Jeon Jihee pairing. Korea, like the Japanese men, opted to have their strongest player, Jeon Jihee, avoid the ace position.
After Korea won the doubles 3-2 and Han Ying defeated Choi Hyojoo 3-0, Jeon defeated Petrissa Solja 3-0 to give Korea the 2-1 lead. Han Ying defeated Shin 3-1 to level it at 2-2, and then Shan Xiaona defeated Choi 3-0 to give Germany the 3-2 victory.
Afterwards, a disappointed Shin said, “I should have won the 4th singles team event, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry that I couldn’t finish the game that my sisters had all caught up with.”
“I played a difficult game with difficult players. I will use the Tokyo Olympics as an experience and train to compete better in the future.”
Korean leadership, while surely disappointed, was also optimistic about the future of their young squad. Korean table tennis secretary general (don’t ask what that position means) stated, “Han Ying is a very strong player. She did very well, adapting quickly against an experienced player. We will grow even more with this tournament as an opportunity.”
Dimitrij Ovtcharov Continues to Break Taiwan’s Heart
Germany opened the team match against Taiwan with a good start after winning the first doubles game 11-0 before going on to win 3-1. While Lin Yun-Ju was able to get his revenge against Dimtrij Ovtcharov and win both his singles matches as the ace player, Germany was ultimately able to pull out a win with Ovtcharov defeating Chuang Chih-Yuan 3-0 in the deciding fifth match.
Ovtcharov continues to be a thorn in the side for Taiwanese table tennis. After Ovtcharov sent defeated in the London 2012 bronze-medal match and Lin in this years bronze-medal match, Ovtcharov again denied Taiwan a chance at a medal with a 3-0 victory over Chuang in the deciding fifth match.
After losing to Japan in the semi-finals at the Rio Olympics, Germany is hungry for revenge in their semi-final match-up this year.
“We lost to Japan five years ago in Rio, and we want to make it better this time,” Ovtcharov said.
“For Japan, it’s the most important match in their home Olympics. We’re also a little bit happy that the hall is not completely full,” Boll joked.
“But yeah, we will prepare like we always did, we give it our best and try everything.”
All eight quarterfinal matches (four for men’s singles, four for women’s singles) for the table tennis event at the Tokyo Olympics were played on July 28. We recap key moments of the day’s action in the form of memes.
For the schedule of today’s semi-final and women’s medal matches converted into American timezones, see here.
Yu Mengyu Beats Kasumi Ishikawa 11-0…and Mima Ito Pays It Forward
Down 3-1, in Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa’s final singles game of the Tokyo Olympics and likely her Olympic career, Ishikawa failed to score a single point as Singapore’s Yu Mengyu went up 10-0 before giving a mercy point. Japan’s Mima Ito was able to pay the favor forward, as she went up 10-0 in the second game against Korea’s Jeon Jihee before giving a mercy point. Jeon actually recovered quite decently, pushing Ito into deuce in the next game.
Fan Zhendong’s Galaxy Brain Time-out Against Jeoung Youngsik
When Fan Zhendong dropped a single point against Jeoung Youngsik after going up 9-5 and 2-0 in games and then called time-out, it was certainly one of the more interesting uses of a time-out.
One possible intuition behind the decision was that Fan knew that with the score in game 3 and the way both of them were playing, he was almost certain to beat Jeoung in both games 3 and 4. Jeoung’s only potential lifeline back into the match would be a mental collapse by Fan in game 3. Fan likely pre-emptively quashed any hopes for a Jeoung comeback by taking the time-out and steadying himself and preventing any possible comeback.
Regardless of what was going through Fan’s head when he called that time-out, it takes a certain amount of confidence in your superiority over your opponent to go for the 4-0 kill without thinking twice about no longer having a time-out in a potential game 6 or 7.
Fan’s decision worked out, as he won the third game 11-6 and the fourth game 11-5 for a clean 4-0 win.
Pantsgate Plagues Doo Hoi Kem Against Chen Meng
Doo Hoi Kem was feeling good after taking the first game and going up 4-1 in the second game. However, there was a sudden stoppage in play as someone suddenly noticed that her pants violated some Olympic code by having too many sponsored logos on it. Doo was forced to stop mid-game and put duct-tape on her shorts to cover the logo.
After the stoppage in play, Chen Meng immediately won three points to level the game. However, Doo was still able to pull out the win to take a 2-0 lead. The duct tape would continue to fall off and bother Doo between games, who appeared to eventually solve the problem by just rolling up her shorts or compression sleeves.
Ma Lin Relives 2008 Through Chen Meng
While Chen Meng and Doo Hoi Kem cho’d throughout their match, the biggest screamer was probably Ma Lin, who was coaching Chen. Ma Lin was constantly seen and heard jumping and screaming in support of Chen as she came back from down 2-0 to win 4-2, and his passion was duly noted by Adam Bobrow in the commentary.
Everything That One British NBC Commentator Guy Said
There was one British NBC commentator who is likely a very nice guy, but he had some interesting takes on table tennis. His top three moments are:
Spending twice as much time as he should have to explain why it’s important to wipe sweat off the table in the Fan Zhendong vs Jeoung Youngsik match
When a player served a half-long in Lin Yun-Ju’s 4-0 massacre of Darko Jorgic and the opponent opened, the commentator explained that the half-long was the worst possible serve and that players should only serve short or fast and long.
In the second half of the Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs Hugo Calderano match (after Calderano went up 2-0, Ovtcharov came back to win 4-2), with the momentum on Ovtcharov’s sideb Calderano broke out the simple dead/light backhand serve (giving Ovtcharov a taste of his own medicine), and Ovtcharov looped one serve out and then lost another two points later against that serve. However, after the first serve that Ovtcharov missed, the commentator called the serve “disrespectful” and implied it was a weak serve.
Fan Zhendong recovered from a 3-1 in games and 8-4 deficit against Xu Xin to win the men’s singles finals and Wang Manyu handed Chen Meng her first major loss since the pandemic to win the women’s singles finals at the second leg of the Chinese Olympic Scrimmages.
It is an encouraging sign for Fan, who was upset by dark horse champion Zhou Qihao in the finals of the first leg of the China Olympic Scrimmages. Fan will represent China in the men’s singles event at the Tokyo Olympic alongside Ma Long. Ma was upset by Xu Chenhao in the quarter-finals, denying fans the chance to see a preview of the likely Ma vs Fan finals at the Tokyo Olympics. After suffering a series of bad losses earlier this year, Xu Xin finally put together a strong tournament performance as he rounds into form to represent China in the team event at the Olympics.
After his win, Fan noted that when losing, the most important thing to think about was not tactical adjustments per se, but to remind himself not to give up. After establishing a no-quit mentality was he able to think of tactical and technical adjustments to spark the comeback.
Wang Manyu was selected as a reserve for the Chinese Olympic team, but she defeated both of China’s women’s singles representatives at the Olympics, Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, and clearly outperformed Liu Shiwen, who will be providing a veteran presence in the women’s team event.
Wang finally put a dent on Chen’s dominant run over the past year or so. Chen was up to this point undefeated in 2021 in the first leg of the Chinese Olympic Scrimmage and won the post-pandemic World Tour Finals, World Cup, and All China National Championships in 2020. This tournament result is not necessarily a cause for alarm for Chen and Sun, as the purpose of the scrimmages is precisely for them to work out the kinks in their game.
After her win, Wang remarked that she is very happy with the results and actually did not go into the tournament with any championship expectations or thoughts and was mainly focused on playing well in preparation for the Olympics.
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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.
2020 Decayed Points
WTT Doha Contender Points
WTT Doha Star Contender Points
Doo Hoi Kem
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.
2020 Decayed Points
WTT Doha Contender Points
WTT Doha Star Contender Points
Men’s Singles Projected World Rankings for Olympic Seeding
Update: A previous version of this post had incorrect ranking points added to Falck and Jang. This error has been corrected.
In the men’s event, there is no clear massive winner like Feng Tianwei. Instead, the biggest winner of the men’s singles event by default is Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
While Ovtcharov walked away with the WTT Contender title and appears to be quite happy that he has re-joined the top ten in the world rankings, from an Olympic seeding perspective not much has changed. In our tournament preview, we expected that a baseline level of play would be enough for Ovtcharov to take control of a top-eight seed in Tokyo and join the top ten in the world rankings list. Although Ovtcharov outperformed expectations and is now projected to pass a disappointing Mattias Falck, he is still firmly entrenched in the 5-8 spot in the Olympics as expected.
That being said, all Ovtcharov needs is for Lin and Calderano to pull a page out of Cheng and Ishikawa’s book in the next WTT event, and he may just be able to steal the fourth seed in Tokyo. However, Ovtcharov is still in a worse position than Feng was entering Doha since the next WTT event is likely to be in China. Even if only two Chinese players play, the odds of Ovtcharov pulling off a surprise finals run in China like Feng did in Doha drop astronomically.
Lin Yun-Ju is a minor winner considering that he passed Calderano for the Olympic fourth seed. However, Lin shouldn’t be feeling too victorious since with his losses to Ovtcharov and Filus, he blew a chance to really put some distance between him and Calderano.
The two major losers in the men’s singles events were Hugo Calderano and Jang Woojin. Calderano lost control of the Olympic fourth seed with a quarter-final loss to Simon Gauzy in WTT Contender and threw away his chance to take it back with a missed serve against Darko Jorgic at match point in the WTT Star Contender round of 16.
Going into the tournament, Jang appeared to be a slam dunk to pass Timo Boll in the world rankings and put himself in position to take the eighth seed in Tokyo. However, Jang was unable to notch even a single win and now finds himself still stuck as a projected ninth seed in Tokyo.
In summary, Edges and Nets’ final picks for winners and losers at WTT Doha are:
Major Winner: Feng Tianwei
Minor Winners: Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Lin Yun-Ju, and Jeon Jihee
Minor Loser: Adriana Diaz
Major Losers: Kasumi Ishikawa, Cheng I-Ching, Hugo Calderano and Jang Woojin
Our next blog post will be posted on Wednesday, March 24.Update: The release of the next post has been delayed by up to a couple days.
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We take a look at the biggest storylines following the round of 32 and going into the round of 16 in the WTT Star Contender event at WTT Doha.
1) Shin Yubin Defeats Margaryta Pesotska To Set Up Korea-Japan Olympic Team Preview Against Miu Hirano
After upsetting Miyuu Kihara (WR 47) in the round of 64, the massively underrated 16-year old Shin Yubin (WR 94) upset Margaryta Pesotska (WR 32) 3-1 to set up a round of 16 clash against Miu Hirano (WR 11). Shin will be representing South Korea at the Tokyo Olympics after beating several higher ranked players the Korean Olympic Trials, and her match with Hirano provides a preview for a potential Korea-Japan semi-final match-up in the Olympic Team Event.
Although Hirano is significantly higher ranked, Shin has a decent chance at an upset. Hirano has struggled over the last couple years and has had a disappointing 2021 so far; she lost to Kihara at the All Japan National Championships and was again further outperformed by Kihara in WTT Contender. Japan is still the heavy favorite for the silver medal regardless of the result, but if Hirano loses to Shin, Japanese national team coaches may start to grow concerned over whether their third star can snap out of her funk.
2) No Korea-Japan Men’s Round of 16 Matches As WTT Star Contender Additions Fall
The men’s draw was originally set to feature two potential previews of a Korea-Japan team match-up in the round of 16, but no such preview will be happening. Instead, Korea’s Jeoung Youngsik (WR 13) will be playing Gustavo Tsuboi (WR 36), who slaughtered Japan’s Koki Niwa (WR 17) 3-0, and Japan’s Jun Mizutani (WR 18) will be playing Ruwen Filus (WR 42), who upset Korea’s Jang Woojin (WR 12) 3-1. Both Jang and Niwa did not play in WTT Contender, and their presence was supposed to bolster the star-power of WTT Star Contender.
Filus may have just sent German teammate Timo Boll a huge gift. Jang was originally expected to almost certainly pass Timo Boll on the rankings to secure a top eight seed at the Olympics, but after Jang’s first round exit, Boll will likely hold onto his world rank.
Not everything was rosy for Germany as Patrick Franziska (WR 16), another additional star to WTT Star Contender, fell to Sharath Achanta (WR 32) 11-9 in the fifth. Achanta will face Franziska’s national teammate Dimitrij Ovtcharov (WR 10) in the round of 16.
3) Bernadette Szocs, Britt Eerland, and Lily Zhang Fail to Capitalize on Friendlier Draw
After putting up a valiant fight against a difficult draw in last week’s WTT Contender, Bernadette Szocs (WR 25), Britt Eerland (WR 28), and Lily Zhang (WR 30) were dealt a much friendlier draw this week. However, none of them were able to capitalize on the opportunity as Szocs lost 3-1 to Bruna Takahashi (WR 49), Eerland blew a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to Kim Hayeong (WR 123), and Zhang lost 3-2 to Satsuki Odo (WR 103).
Eerland and Szocs missed a chance to solidify their position as a top 16 seed at the Tokyo Olympics, which also appears to be a cut-off for direct qualification for European players via world rank. Zhang also missed her chance to break into the round of 16, although she is already confirmed to represent the United States in Tokyo.
4) Kristian Karlsson Upsets Liam Pitchford Deuce In the Fifth As Pitchford’s Goes 0-2 in Doha
After losing to Andreas Levenko (WR 141) in the first round last week, Liam Pitchford (WR 15) again lost in his first match, this time to Kristian Karlsson (WR 29), who saved a match point in the fifth game to win deuce in the fifth. Pitchford has been nursing a hand injury suffered during practice two weeks ago, which severely hampered him in his loss to Levenko. Pitchford’s hand looked stronger this time as he was able to land some strong chiquitas that he struggled with last week, but he nevertheless lost deuce in the fifth to Karlsson to wrap up what has to be an extremely disappointing tournament for Pitchford.
Karlsson will play Gauzy in the round of 16, who reached the semi-finals in last week’s WTT Contender after upsetting Hugo Calderano, in what Edges and Nets would consider to be the most interesting men’s singles round of 16 match-up due to the combined starpower, even match-up, and the looming possibility of a Gauzy vs Calderano rematch.
5) Cheng I-Ching and Hina Hayata to Face Off In Difficult Round of 16 Match
After upsetting Kasumi Ishikawa (WR 9) and making a run to the finals, where she came quite close to beating Ito for the championship, in last week’s WTT Contender, Hina Hayata (WR 26) defeated 15-year old Kim Nayeong (ranked a ridiculously low 724) 3-1 to advance to the round of 16, where she will face an early test against second seed Cheng I-Ching (WR 8). Cheng will also get the chance to redeem herself after suffering a first-round exit last week to Szocs. A win from Hayata, who will not be playing in the Olympics, would also help her national teammate Kasumi Ishikawa in her campaign to take the Olympic fourth seed from Cheng.
6) An Jaehyun Avenges World Championship Semi-Final Loss With 3-0 Win Over Mattias Falck
Tied 2-2 in games, Mima Ito (WR 3) and Hina Hayata (WR 29) both reached into their bag of tricks as Ito eked out a gutsy 11-9 win in a pivotal game 5 en route to a 11-9, 11-8, 6-11, 9-11, 11-9, 11-6 finals victory over Hayata. With the win Ito, has captured the first ever World Table Tennis (i.e. rebranded ITTF) Title in the WTT Contender Event at WTT Doha. The qualification draw of WTT Star Contender, the second and more prestigious event at WTT Doha, is already underway and will be ongoing throughout the week.
The victory is slightly dimmed due to the withdrawal of Sun Yingsha and Liu Shiwen and general lack of star-power among Ito’s opponents (none of her opponents were in the top 20 although Hayata likely deserves to be in it). However, Ito was still able to make a small statement; while all the other top seeds in the event were getting upset left and right, Ito was able to stay steady take care of business. If everyone has similar showings in WTT Star Contender event, Ito can make the case for why she is arguably the ONLY serious threat to Chinese supremacy at the Tokyo Olympics.
Ito opened the match very aggressively, which initially cost her as she missed several aggressive forehand smashes to go down 7-3. However, her shots suddenly started landing and went on a 8-2 run to take the game 11-9. Save for a net ball when down 7-4 (which itself was in the middle of an offensive rally), all of Ito’s last eight points were won off of aggressive wide openings or ambitious forehand smashes. Both the points she lost were a result of her missing her own forehand smash.
Ito’s aggressive style carried into game 2, but thanks to a couple early service and return errors and a missed smash, Hayata was able to open up an early 5-3 lead that could have been larger if not for a couple of her own easier backhand errors.
Ito then won four points in a row to take a 7-5 lead. Two of these points followed the same strategy of allowing Hayata to open with her backhand against a short ball to the center and then smashing the ball back hard for the winner after anticipating its location.
Ito would use the same play again at 8-7 to maintain a 9-7 lead. Ito then surprised Hayata with a short push; Hayata rushed when stepping in and flicked the ball into the net, giving Ito three game points at 10-7. Ito missed a forehand smash to cut it to 10-8, but Hayata then missed a forehand flick on the serve return to lose the game 11-8.
Similar to game 1, Ito continued to be aggressive and go for hard and wide forehand smashes, but missed several of them. Hayata also added some extra twists to her short game including a half-long push at 3-2 and a surprise forehand flick at 6-3 that, combined with Ito’s errors, were enough for Hayata to go up 9-3.
Ito was able to win two points on her own serve to cut it to 9-5. Hayata then served long to Ito’s elbow but missed the block when Ito stepped around to smash it to her backhand. On the very next point, Hayata trusted her long serve and anticipation again as she served a long serve again to Ito’s elbow, but this time a little further to the backhand, and when Ito stepped around and hit it to Hayata’s backhand, Hayata was ready for a wide block to Ito’s forehand for the winner.
Ito was able to catch Hayata with a long serve on the next point, but Hayata’s surprised return carried some weird spin and neither player seemed to know what was on the ball for a couple shots before Ito went for the smash and hit it out the table, giving game 3 to Hayata 11-6.
Hayata showed some great anticipation and killed several of Ito’s openings as she built a 6-3 lead. However, Hayata then missed her own serve, lost a weird point after a net ball, and then lost a great rally to level it at 6-6. However, Hayata was unfazed as she continued to show great anticipation and smack down many of Ito’s openings and fool Ito with her long serves to cruise to an 10-7 lead.
However, a winning serve return from Ito and a missed serve return by Hayata cut the lead to 10-9. Ito calmly asked for her second “covid timeout” of a game (i.e. where a player effectively gets an extra mini-break by asking the umpire to “wipe down” the table), and what appeared to be a rattled Hayata then called a real timeout.
Hayata then opened with a chiquita to Ito’s wide backhand and then hit a hard wide backhand winner against the soft return to take the game 11-9.
Neither player was able to take control the pace of the game like Ito in games 1 and 2 or Hayata in games 3 and 4. Ito had the slight edge in rallies, allowing her to build 8-6 lead. It was around at this point that both players appeared to bust out their bags of tricks.
Hayata won a point off a tricky half-long serve, and Ito took the next point with a short, high, and very strange chop block that Hayata hit into the net. Hayata then won the next point with a strawberry flick to cut the lead to 9-8. Each player then won a point off the third ball following great anticipation, resulting in a 10-9 lead for Ito with Hayata to serve. Ito then opted for a short push instead of the backhand flick that Hayata was expecting on the serve return, and Hayata missed the following push as Ito eked out a clutch 11-9 win in a pivotal game 5.
Game 6 got off to a strange start. Hayata first won a beautiful rally before missing her own serve to level it at 1-1. Ito then caught a net ball and a pretty wide block to take a 3-1 lead. Hayata then proceeded to serve long on all four of her next four serves and lost all four points. However, Ito returned the favor by losing four straight of her own serves, including a missed serve.
Hayata was able to get narrow the lead one more point to 7-6 with a deep push to Ito’s backhand before dropping the next point to g o down 8-6. Hayta then missed a serve return and then lost the next point after Ito got a net ball, giving Ito quadruple match point at 10-6. Hayata’s shoulders slumped in frustration, and although it looked like she had gathered herself together for the next point, her serve was a bit high, and Ito killed the serve with a wide punch to Hayata’s forehand.
This sequence capped off a 5-0 streak for Ito in what was otherwise a close and unpredictable game. She thus took the match 4-2, and with it, the first ever WTT title (WTT Macau does not count because the rules were a complete gimmick).
On the men’s singles side, Dimitrij Ovtcharov captured the title with a 4-1 win over Lin Yun-Ju.
Ito missed three of her own serves and Hayata missed two. It’s unclear why whether the large number of missed serves was due to nervousness, rustiness, or a change in routine due to covid restrictions (e.g. no touching the table).
Either Ito sweats a lot or she really likes making use of the so-called covid timeout.
The outfits this time were significantly better than whatever they were wearing at the All Japan National Championships in January, which can be seen in our Instagram post below. Between these National Championship outfits and Harimoto’s tendency to dress like a fruit with his monochromatic color schemes, Edges and Nets is not a huge fan of Team Japan’s fashion choice.
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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.
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