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Mattias Falck (WR 8) forced An Jaehyun back from the table and out of view of WTT’s beloved new camera angle, but An still managed to take the point with a pair of hard forehand counter-loops from deep to go up 10-7 and 2-0 in games for triple match point. He only needed one as an aggressive An Jaehyun avenged his 2019 World Championship semi-final loss to Mattias Falck with a comfortable 3-0 (11-8, 11-9, 11-7) victory in the round of 32 in WTT Star Contender at WTT Doha.
It was a stellar performance from An as his national teammates struggled: Lee Sangsu (WR 22) was upset 3-1 by Anton Kallberg (WR 58), Jang Woojin (WR 11) was upset by Ruwen Filus (WR 42), and Jeoung Youngsik (WR 13) squeaked by deuce in the fifth against Kirill Gerassimenko (WR 46). Falck is the highest ranked player that a Korean player of either gender has beaten so far at WTT Doha.
The full match can be watched on WTT/ITTF’s Youtube channel.
Falck started the first point of the match with a strategy he would rely on throughout the game: a wide push or block to An’s forehand would force a step-around-happy An to put up a weak forehand opening, and then Falck would quickly roll it back wide to An’s backhand. Falck was able to build an early 3-0 lead, but An was able to pull off seven points in a row off very aggressive forehand loops to take a 7-3 lead. A pair of points when An lead 9-7 provided a perfect summary of the game: Falck won a point with a wide push to the forehand followed by a wide crosscourt backhand roll to cut it to 9-8, and then An won a point with a hard step-around forehand to bring it back up to 10-8. Down 10-8 Falck tried to mix things up with a serve from the forehand side, but he missed a block against An’s soft opening after a brief short-push exchange, giving An the game 11-8.
Falck won the first two points with a pair of smart serves, but then again lost four points in a row to go down 4-2. He won the next two points to level it to 4-4, prompting An to ask for a COVID timeout, (i.e. where a player effectively gets an extra mini-break by asking the umpire to “wipe down” the table). At 5-5, An then served a long fast serve and took the ensuing backhand-backhand rally, and then Falck missed a short backhand opening to go down 7-5. Falck was able to kill a weak push from An on the next point, but then missed two consecutive half-long backhand openings to go down 9-6, prompting him to wipe the table in frustration.
An missed an attempt at a step-around forehand kill, and then Falck won two more points off of smart service play, including a risky long fast serve to An’s forehand, to level it at 9-9. However, An would take the last two points to take the second game 11-9 as Falck threw his paddle in disgust after missing another backhand opening.
An Jaehyun stole the first point with a down the line long fast serve to Falck’s forehand, but Falck hit several nice rallies and wide shots to take a 5-2 lead. An then took a couple of rallies to level it to 6-6. An then whiffed a backhand loop against a slower than expected block from Falck, putting Falck up 7-6. Falck then missed a short push and a block, causing him to call a time-out down 8-7. The time-out was of no avail as An won the next three points to complete a 5-0 winning streak and take the match 11-8, 11-9, 11-7.
- Falck appears not to be a fan of the COVID time-out as he wiped the table himself several times. The umpire did not give him a yellow card, a decision that Edges and Nets agrees with given our “let them play” attitude and skepticism over the effectiveness of banning table-touching from preventing coronavirus spread (you’re just calling a socially distant umpire to walk up right next to you to touch the table for you!). However, others may have wished to see existing COVID restrictions enforced more strictly.
- An will get the chance to avenge Lee Sangsu in a round of 16 match-up with Anton Kallberg
- Despite his great performances recently, An will not be participating in the Tokyo Olympics after losing out in the Korean Olympic Trials on what essentially was a technicality, giving his fans a massive case of second lead syndrome.