Long a hurdle away from another gold
World champion and Rio Olympics gold medalist Ma Long has only one hurdle left for him to complete a dominant year as he advanced in style into the final of the men’s singles event of the Seamaster 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Doha on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Chinese was in ‘killer form’ in his match against South Korea’s Jeoung Youngsik as he left no room for any mistakes, taking the game in straight sets ( 11-9, 11-8, 11-8, 14-12) in under an hour to set up a final clash against his compatriot world number two Fan Zhendong who defeated Xu Xin, the world number three and fellow Chinese 4-2 (11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9).
For Long, who has so far stayed for 51 months at the top of the global rankings (the second longest in history), Doha holds a special place in his heart and a place he would like to keep coming at every opportunity considering the number of success he has had at the Qatari capital.
The world champion is the defending champion of the Qatar Open ITTF World Tour and he has won three times in Doha with his first being in the doubles event where he paired with his compatriot Xu Xin in 2009, when he broke into the global top-two ranking.
The four-day season-ending tournament is attracting a total purse of $500,000 with the winners of the men’s and women’s singles smiling home with $60,000 each.
“I’m happy to be in the final once again after such an interesting week. I played against a worthy opponent and the win wasn’t as easy as the result suggested. The week has been very wonderful considering that I also won the ITTF Star Award as the Player of the Year. I hope to maintain my current form and win the final to end a long and eventful year in style,” Long said after the match.
In the quarters earlier in the day, Zhendong had to recover from a two games to nil deficit to beat Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the number eight seed (9-11, 10-12, 15-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-5); conversely Xin overpowered Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu, the number 10 seed, in straight games (11-2, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4).
Focused and positive, Ovtcharov secured the first two games, each by the minimal two point margin. In the third he led 9-5; then 10-9 before Zhendong leveled.
A moment of drama later followed as the ball broke into two pieces after Zhendong’s racket made contact while he was attempting to make a powerful backhand spin thus necessitating the point being replayed.
Eventually, the game was won by Zhendong.
“I’m disappointed because I feel I was playing really well; the first two games were very open. If had won the third maybe I could have won four-nil; the last tournament of the year I wanted to finish on a winning note”, Dimitrij Ovtcharov
Meanwhile, one match earlier, Xin had endorsed the fact that against defensive players he is the most devastating of the modern era and maybe of all time.
Playing against Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu, a master of the defensive art, nevertheless the relentless long raking forehand of the 26-year-old Xin was, as always, devastating; the telling factor not necessarily being the length of the stroke but the split second earlier timing than most mortals.
The world number three ensured he eviscerated the Japanese in no time winning 4-0 in convincing style to set up the semi-final clash against Zhendong.
Men's Singles Semi-Finals
Ma Long bts Jeoung Youngsik 4-0 ( 11-9, 11-8, 11-8, 14-12)
Fan Zhendong bts Xu Xin 4-2 (11-5, 5-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9)
Women's Singles Semi-Finals
Zhu Yuling bts Kasumi Ishikawa 4-0 (16-14, 11-3, 11-8, 11-7)
Han Ying bts Miu Hirano 4-0 (11-2, 11-4, 11-3, 11-5)
Men's Doubles Semi-Final
Jeoung Youngsik/Lee Sangsu bt Alexey Liventsov/Mikhail Paikov 4-3 (8-11, 12-10, 10-12, 11-4, 11-9, 10-12, 11-7)
Masataka Morizono/Yuya Oshima bt Ho Kwan Kit/Tang Peng 4-1 (7-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-4, 11-9)
Women's Doubles Semi-Final
Doo Hoi Kem/Lee Ho Ching bt Jeon Jihee/Yang Haeun 4-0 (13-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-7)
Yui Hamamoto/Hina Hayata bt Honoka Hashimoto/Hitomi Sato 4-2 (8-11, 12-10, 11-13, 11-5, 12-10, 11-6)