TABLE TENNIS TIDBITS # 29 By Robert Ho 10-12-16
2016 Women’s World Cup “When the Cats/s’ Away…”
At this tourney in Philadelphia, Pa. 10=7—9-16 World Champion Ding Ning and World Tour #1 Liu Shiwen, both from China, were originally expected, but for unstated reasons were no-shows. Consequently there were surprising finalists and unexpected match outcomes in the City of Brotherly (in this case, Sisterly) Love. Sitting in the front row at courtside was U.S. coach Larry Hodges from the club in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
A quarterfinal match featured outstanding Japanese teenagers Mima Ito and Miu Hirano. Ito became the youngest competitor to win a World Tour event when she was the victor at the ’15 German Open at 14. Here she was facing 15 year old countrywoman Miu Hirano. Ito has appeared numerous times on the World Tour since her victory in Germany; Hirano infrequently. Both players are righthanders and use inverted rubber on the FH; on the BH: inverted for Hirano, medium pips (according to commentator Bobrow) for Ito. Both are very nimble and aggressive. A critical difference is Hirano’s BH loop versus Ito’s BH block and hit. Hirano is positioned at mid table to start her service and shifts toward her BH side in completing her serve whereas Ito starts and finishes at her BH corner. Perhaps Hirano is trying to increase the chances of her BH loop coming into play early in the exchange to follow. In the 1st game the score is 3-0 (Ito), 4-4, 5-4 (Hirano), 9-6 (Hirano), but Ito comes from behind to win 13-11 when Hirano’s BH loop goes long and high. In game 2 there were numerous net serves by Hirano attesting to her focus on keeping the serve low—no nets by Ito: Hirano wins at 4. By game 3 it is apparent that Hirano is well adapted to Ito’s BH block, hit, and push and wins at 8. For the rest of the match, although fascinating to watch, the lesser known teen is in control and wins the last 2 games at 4 and 8.
In the absence of #s1 and 2 in the world, Feng Tian Wei of Singapore became the top seed and was favored to win the title. Feng is coached by Chen Zhi Bin of China who was the losing finalist to Jan Ove Waldner of Sweden at the U.S. Open in Baltimore in ’90. Not only is there an overflow of Chinese men and women players to other countries; there is also a “surplus” of coaches who leave China as numerous players become coaches. Feng uses inverted rubber on BH and FH and is an “attacker”.
So it was that Feng met 15 year old Miu Hirano of Japan in one semifinal. Hirano is coached by “Arakawa” (said by commentator, Adam Bobrow, to be from China). Numerous Chinese players and coaches who moved to Japan assumed Japanese names. Between games and during the one timeout taken, Arakawa speaks and gestures briefly; the rest of the time Hirano leafs through a folder of papers; she stops occasionally and reorients the file which she inspects/reads (?)—an unusual “going by the book!”
It soon becomes apparent that Hirano is a bit more nimble and quicker in reaction than her opponent. As a result Feng is pressured into BH blocking or looping sooner than she wishes; in the case of the loop she often is rushed so that she is unable to make a full loop stroke. On the other hand, the faster Hirano more often is able to fully windup to make her BH loop. Feng loses many points in BH exchanges through errors including mishits. For similar reasons Hirano does well with her FH exchanges; on numerous occasions she wins points with a FH hit just off the bounce with elbow near full extension. A BH sidespin block is another tactic that Hirano uses effectively. The first game gave no indication of the outcome of the match: Feng led 9-1 and won 11-3. In the 2nd game Hirano led 8-1 and won 11-6. Hirano won the 3rd at 7. In the 4th Feng led 5-0, 10-5, but Hirano dug it out at 11, including barely making a high push after Feng’s ball brushed the net, but Feng hit the return into the net. Hirano took the 5th at 9. In the 6th and last game Feng led 9-7, 11-10, 12-11, but Hirano prevailed 15-13.
In the other semi, Cheng I Ching of Taipei exulted in her 4-2 win over Tie Yana of Hongkong, each playing the attack-counterattack game which is the prevailing mode. Cheng’s error rate was notably less than her opponent’s.
In the anticlimactic final it’s Hirano vs 24 year old Cheng I Ching. Cheng is “coached” by her older sister whom she resembles. The “coaching” consists of the older gazing at the younger who only reciprocates irregularly. If one were a lip reader, one could not be confident any thoughts were exchanged. Hirano wins 9,5,4,8 comfortably as her opponent is erratic, tactically challenged, and slower. Hirano was the only player in the tournament who might have made things interesting for Ding or Liu.