Final places booked, Ma Long imposing, Fan Zhendong survives
The respective top two seeds, China’s Ma Long and Fan Zhendong duly emerged successful at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Qatar Open in Doha on the evening of Saturday 25th February.
Ma Long beat Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan, the no.9 seed in four straight games (11-8, 11-8, 11-6, 11-4), before Fan Zhendong emerged successful in a dynamic all-Chinese duel in opposition to Fang Bo, the no.11 seed. He won in seven games (9-11, 11-3, 12-10, 5-11, 11-6, 13-15, 11-8)
Earlier in the day, the speed of Chuang Chih-Yuan had proved pivotal in his victory over Japan’s Koki Niwa; once again when facing Ma Long, his speed was in evidence, so was the speed of Ma Long.
Moving about the court both players are fast on their feet but in one other respect Ma Long is faster; he times the ball that split second sooner, he gives his opponents minimal time to react. The result is that they are under consistent pressure; add to that factor the heavy bombardment from the Ma Long forehand and mistakes accrue.
At the Liebherr 2012 Men’s World Cup, in the group stage of proceedings, prior to progressing to capture the title, Ma Long had been beaten by Chuang Chih-Yuan; there was to be no repeat in Doha.
“Chuang is in good form to reach the top four here in Doha, so I’m very happy to be able to win the match against him and make it to the final”, Ma Long
Success for Ma Long, a trademark display; it was the same from Fan Zhendong who is gaining the reputation of being the most potent counter top spin player of all time.
It is the fact that he has the ability to return the ball on the table that is invaluable in a crisis; he does not panic, he is prepared to play a long rally. It was that ability which was the marginal difference between two very equal players.
Throughout the contest there was little to choose between the two players; the crucial stage of the contest being very much in the sixth game. Fang Bo having never been behind in the game until it was parity at 8-all, lost the next point. He called “Time Out” but at 10-9 faced match point; he saved the point and then saved two more before on his second game point, he emerged successful.
A deciding seventh game beckoned; at the change of ends, Fan Zhendong led 5-2; Fang Bo recovered to trail 8-6, Fan Zhendong called “Time Out”. It proved a wise move, he won three of the next five points and thus a place in the final.
“I think my performance today was good, the problem was in the handling of crucial points in the first and sixth games. I was too reserved in my playing style and that gave Fang Bo the opportunity to win points. In the sixth game, I was too aggressive instead resulting in a lot of errors from my side. I think I have to have better control in that respect. I had few match points in the sixth game but couldn’t seize the opportunity to take that game. In the decider, I had a good start, and wasn’t affected by the loss of the sixth game, I think that’s something that I did well in this match”, Fan Zhendong
The final is scheduled to complete the finals’ programme which starts at 2.00pm on Sunday 26th February; the Women’s Doubles commences the schedule, followed by Men’s Doubles, Women’s Singles and Men’s Singles.