If only for Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin book semi-final places
The weight of expectation on their shoulders, China’s Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin both emerged successful in their quarter-final Men’s Singles contests at the Seamaster 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Doha on the afternoon of Saturday 10th September.
Successful but the success was gained in a most contrasting manner.
Fan Zhendong, the no.2 seed, was required to recover from a two games to nil deficit to beat Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the no.8 seed (9-11, 10-12, 15-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-5); conversely Xu Xin, the no.3 seed, overpowered Japan’s Yuto Muramatsu, the no.10 seed, in straight games (11-2, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4).
Focused and positive, Dimitrij Ovtcharov secured the first two games, each by the minimal two point margin.
In the third he led 9-5; then 10-9, Fan Zhendong levelled, before a moment of drama. Attempting a powerful backhand top spin, as Fan Zhendong’s racket made contact with the ball; the ball broke into two pieces.
The ball had broken during the rally, thus it was let; the point had to be replayed.
Eventually, the game was won by Fan Zhendong; it was the pivotal stage of the match; had Dimitrij Ovtcharov been able to capitalise on the four point advantage, had the ball not broken would the outcome have been different. Life is about ifs and buts.
Meanwhile, one match earlier, Xu Xin had endorsed the fact that against defensive players he is the most devastating of the modern era and maybe of all time.
Watching him pummel Korea’s Joo Saehyuk into submission in London’s ExCeL Exhibition Centre in the opening round of the Men’s Singles event at the 2011 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, supported the supposition. Xu Xin won in four straight games (11-1, 11-8, 11-8, 11-5).
Five years and one round later Yuto Muramatsu, who is surely the successor to Joo Saehyuk as the master of the defensive art, experienced the same problems as the now 36 year old Korean has witnessed in the east end of England’s capital city.
The first game against Joo Saehyuk necessitated a moment of charity before the Korean won a point, Xu Xin deliberately serving into the net; poor Yuto Muramatsu experienced the same fate.
The relentless long raking forehand of the 26 year old from Jiangsu Province was, as always, devastating; the telling factor not necessarily being the length of the stroke but the split second earlier timing than most mortals.
At the semi-final stage Xu Xin meets Fan Zhendong; colleague Ma Long confronts Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik.