The critical match from today’s action was An Jaehyun’s 4-2 victory over Lee Sangsu. Assuming Olympic qualification is based on the combined final record across both round robins (Update: this assumption turned out to be incorrect, as the metric used for qualification ended up being placement in each round robin and not number of total matches won. Lee would go on to qualify for the Olympics even though An won his remaining matches.), with the victory over Lee Sangsu (and an ensuing victory over Lim Jonghoon), An Jaehyun controls his own destiny, meaning that if he wins his final match against Jeoung Youngsik then he will qualify for the Olympics. The match was both high-stakes and thrilling, as An Jaehyun nearly blew a 9-1 lead in the sixth game and required five match points before finally taking the match. We recap the match below. The match begins five hours into KTTA’s Table 1 stream.
Neither player could get an advantage for the first half of the game as both player exchanged points over short rallies from strong openings and some regrettable errors from each player. Among these errors was a missed serve by An at 6-6 that gave Lee room to build a 10-7 lead. However, Lee would later then make two critical errors of his own as he caught a net ball at 10-9 but missed the next ball after an out-of-position An gave a soft and high return, and then he missed his own serve at 11-10. At 12-11, it was then An’s turn to lose a game point as Lee gave a surprisingly soft serve return to the elbow that An hit into the net with an ugly backhand. Lee tried a backhand flip to the elbow again 12-12, but An was able to step around early and start a forehand-backhand rally that ended in his favor. An again stepped around at 13-12 to receive Lee’s long fast serve to the elbow, and although he stepped around too early and too far and was out of position, he was able to hit a strong forehand loop that Lee was unable to block, giving An the first game 14-12.
An continued stepping around more agreessively in game 2 and alternated between getting into in-position forehand-backhand counterloop rallies that favored An and stepping around too early and as a result getting caught out-of-position by wide blocks from a perceptive Lee. However, after the game reached 7-7, Lee misread a pair of short balls and the position of a half-long to his elbow. Combined with a highlight point by An where he slaughtered a soft forehand opening from Lee with a massive backhand swing, Lee dropped four straight points as An took the game 11-7.
In game 3, An got off to a hot 7-2 start as Lee missed his own serve and made two challenges to An’s forehand in the form of a slow long serve and a soft block that were both killed by Ab. Challenging An’s forehand turned out to be beneficial for Lee down the road as An would stop stepping around as much against shots to his elbow. Down 2-7, Lee gave started mixing in several suprisingly soft balls (including a chop block against a long serve) with solid attacks to An’s elbow that An either missed or failed to do much against. Lee sprinkled in a pair of highlight-reel worthy forehand counterloops just for good measure as he went on a 9-0 streak, taking the game 11-7.
Lee extended his winning streak to 11 points with a pair of wins in the short game. However, An would win a pair of his points of his own in the short game and go on a three point mini-run that eventually resulted in a 6-4 lead. At 4-6, Lee asked the official to wipe down the table, giving himself a mini towel break. As in the third game, although An built up an early lead from failed challenges by Lee to An’s forehand, Lee would control the second half of the game with well-placed attacks to An’s wide backhand and elbow, going on a 7-1 run, with the only lost point being a missed short push on the serve return, to take the fourth game 11-7.
Game 5 returned to the less streaky nature of the first game and a half as players exchanged solid openings and small errors. An built and maintained an early two-point lead, getting help from a net ball at 1-1 and a missed serve by Lee at 2-4. At 6-8, Lee appeared to take a small risk as he stepped around early, and when An flicked it right to where Lee’s elbow previously was, Lee was able to start a forehand-backhand rally that ended in his favor. On the next point Lee appeared primed to level the game to 8-8 but An got an impressive block in from a fast loop to his wide forehand, saving the point and maintaining a lead that ended in An taking the game 11-8.
Game 6 got off to a rough start for Lee. First, at 0-1 Lee was able to force an out-of-position An into a forehand chop, but missed the follow up loop. Then at 2-0, An clipped the net in a long rally. Down 0-3, Lee then called time out. The timeout had no effect, as An won the next five points off a missed opening by Lee, a pair of misread serves by Lee, and a pair of beautiful counters by An. After exchanging a pair of points, An had what appeared to be a nearly insurmountable 9-1 lead.
However, Lee then won the rally against two long fast serves by An, An popped up a short serve and failed an overly ambitious forehand kill against a fast long serve to the backhand, the next point ended in a rally in Lee’s favor, and suddenly it was 9-6. An took a short table and requested the table to be wiped down, but after the break, An whiffed an ill-advised attempted backhand kill against Lee’s flick to the elbow, shrinking the lead to 9-7. Each player then split a winning forehand loop against a half-long ball to the elbow, bringing the score to 10-8 An. Lee stepped around for an easy kill against a long fast serve to the backhand from An, An missed a third ball half long from the forhehand, and then suddenly it was deuce.
An would get advantage again with a funky soft rally that appeared to have clipped the net, but then missed a counter as Lee saved a fourth match point. An caught what appeared to be another net on the short push serve return at 11-11, forcing Lee to pop up the ball, which An then put away. At 12-11, clearly a bit nervous, An bounced the ball on the table for what felt like ten seconds before serving a net-serve and the promptly calling a time-out. During the next point, An appeared to be in position to lose his fifth match point as he was forced into a chop in the middle of the rally, but he recovered for the strong step-around forehand loop from the backhand corner and won the rally and the game with a score of 13-11.
An Jaehyun defeats Lee Sangsu 14-12, 11-7, 7-11, 7-11, 11-8, 13-11
- Lee and An have previously never played each other in an ITTF event
- As mentioned above, assuming qualification is based on combined record across both round robins, An Jaehyun now controls his own destiny and qualifies for the Olympics by winning his final match again Jeoung Youngsik.
- Under the same assumption, in order to qualify for the Olympics, Lee Sangsu must both win his remaining matches and hope that either Lim Jonghoon or Jeoung Youngsik beats An. This would give him the best record outright. In a two-way tie, An would win the head-to-head tiebreaker since he beat Lee twice. (Update: This assumption was incorrect)
- Jeoung Youngsik now also controls his own destiny. If Jeoung wins all his remaining matches (including against An and Lee), he would have the best record outright and qualify for the Olympics.
- Lim and Cho Daesong appear to have been eliminated from contention