Table Tennis Tidbits #21

By Robert Ho | March 27, 2018, 10:05 p.m. (ET)

Liu Shiwen at the 2016 Japan Open

TABLE TENNIS TIDBITS  # 21   By Robert Ho  6-24-16

Ramen in Slovenia and Australia, but Lo Mein in Japan

Prior to the Japan Open (6-15—19-16), were the Slovenia Open (6-1—5-16) and the Australian Open (6-8—12-16)—at neither of which did mainland Chinese participate.  In Slovenia, Mizutani of Japan beat Chuang of Taipei 4-3 in the men’s final; on the women’s side Feng of Singapore beat Jeon of Korea 4-2.    

The Australian Open was numerically dominated by the Japanese who also were the big winners except for Li Hu from Singapore who lost to Jun Mizutani 4 straight in the men’s final.  Hina Hayata bested chopper Yuka Ishigaki 4-0 in the women’s final.  Mizutani, who has been ranked as high as 5th in the world, was the strongest player at the above tournaments and “cruised” to his wins. 

In the Japan Open, in the quarterfinals, Mizutani lost to China’s Ma Long -7, -8, -9, -8.  The forehand power difference related to bio- mechanics was clearly visible in this match.  Mizutani’s backswing is with elbow flexed about 90 degrees whereas Ma’s elbow is almost fully extended permitting the big swing.  In addition Ma’s speed of movement enables the most aggressive tactics.

A most unusual shot occurred in a quarterfinal between Simon Gauzy of France and Fan Zhen Dong of China.  During the first point of the 5th and last game, Fan served to Gauzy who BH pushed the ball short toward Fan’s BH.  The ball clipped the net and fell short on the table near the sideline and veered off the side of the table.  Fan was just barely able to BH the ball a few inches off the floor beneath the net standard; the ball barely made it onto the table and rolled off the end without a visible bounce!  Both players smiled out of  amazement.  Although Gauzy won the first game at 7, it was only to “wake” Fan who won the next 4: 5, 5, 6, 5.

The winner of the 2013 Japan Open, Japanese Masato Shiono, won a match in the round of 32 against Par Gerell of Sweden that was “entertaining”.  Lefty Gerell is the power game Goliath against the finesse and mobility of Shiono’s “chopping David”.  Shiono’s  attack seems to succeed because of a combination of infrequency and surprise and less because of power: -8,18, 8, -7, 6, 4 in favor of Shiono punctuated by his exultant vocalization during the last game.

Fan Zhen Dong, 19 years of age and #2 in the world, reached the men’s final after downing teammate Zhang Jike, thrice world champion and Olympic champion, in 6 games in one semi.  His opponent was teammate Xu Xin who topped current world champion Ma Long in the other semi.

Of course the power game of these players is well known which is balanced by delicacy and “touch”: Fan uses a BH-sidespin chop to induce an attacking error by Zhang; Fan returns a serve with a FH-sidespin chop which elicits an error by Zhang; Fan uses a BH chop-block in another point.  A deliberate FH chop by Ma gains a point against Xu.  There are numerous net serves by Xu indicating how finely tuned his technique is for keeping the ball low.  Both Xu and Ma made outright service errors attempting extreme angles aimed at the side of the table, so great the challenge to make service return difficult.

In the men’s final Xu used an outside-in BH chop block for an advantage  There are numerous pushing duels after serve, sometimes 3 or 4 by each player before someone opens the attack.  Fan had won 6 out of the 11 matches these 2 have played—he made it 7 out of 12: 9, 5, -9, 7, 8.

In the women’s semis, China’s Liu Shiwen topped teammate Zhu Yu Ling, and their teammate Ding Ning overcame Cheng I-Ching of Taipei.  In the finals the short serve finery was again suggested by Liu’s 2 net serves in the first point and 1 in the second; Ding had 1 net serve in the 11th point and 3(!) in the 12th point; then another in the 16th point.  Liu topped Ding -17, 7, 6, -8, 10, 7.  At the last world championships, Ding came back from an ankle injury timeout to beat Liu in the final.

Currently the top 4 male players and the top 4 women players in the world are all mainland Chinese.  When all are entered in a tournament one of each sex is likely to win the  respective finals and all 8 are likely to be the semifinalists.  The question as to who, among the gifted 8, are likely to be ultimate winners elicits enough interest to compensate for the monolithic nature of the final competitors.  Additionally the observer is able to witness optimal technical and tactical performance which may be lacking in a very competitive match between much lower ranked players.