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Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Experience Counts

The first Women’s Doubles semi-final in the Volkswagen Pro Tour Grand Finals in Fuzhou on Sunday 11th December 2005 saw one of the world’s more experienced pairs against one of the world’s newer formations. The experienced pair was Korea’s KIM Kyung Ah and KIM Bok Rae; the partnership in its infancy, Germany’s Tanja HAIN-HOFMANN and Hungary’s Georgina PÓTA.
Tanja HAIN-HOFMANN & Georgina PÓTA, beaten by KIM Bok Rae & KIM Kyung Ah at the penultimate stage
KIM Kyung Ah and KIM Bok Rae are the expert defenders, the pair who finished in the worst possible place of all at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, fourth place; they lost to the Chinese duo of GUO Yue and NIU Jianfeng in the bronze medal match by the narrowest of margins.

It was a tough proposition for Tanja HAIN-HOFMANN and Georgina PÓTA who had only been partners since the Liebherr Brazilian Open in June 2005. They had chances in the first game but the Koreans prevailed 11-9; the first game is often the most difficult, acclimatising to the situation, win that game and confidence can grow and so it proved to be the case.

Few Errors
In the second game, the Koreans were solid in defence; they made few errors and duly won the game 11-6 to move two games to nil ahead. It was a test of the European pair’s patience; HAIN-HOFMANN has a strong forehand topspin which can be lethal against defence and it would seem that doubles suits her. She has time to play her strong strokes, whilst PÓTA is the fast attacking player. Players with a defensive style are not her favourite opponents but against that style of play, she is certainly improving.

In the third game HAIN-HOFMANN and PÓTA were more consistent, far fewer errors they established a 10-5 lead, eventually winning the game 11-7. They were prepared to push the ball, wait, wait and wait; the Koreans replied by attacking but could not gain parity and the European had reduced the deficit.

Success For Korea
The success clearly gave the European partnership more confidence, they were prepared to attack more but having made a promising start in the fourth game but from 3-4 in arrears they made errors; the Koreans established an 8-4 lead and eventually won the game 11-6.

Maintaining the consistency, reducing errors was the problem for HAIN-HOFMANN and PÓTA and forcing their opponents to make errors is how KIM Bok Rae and KIM Kyung Ah win matches; in fifth game, after a bad start, the European duo recovered to 6-all but they won only one more point, the stoic defence of the Koreans prevailed. KIM Bok Rae and KIM Kyung Ah had reached the final.

Repeat
The second Women’s Doubles semi-final was a repeat of the final of the TMS Chinese Taipei Open when GAO Jun of the United States and SHEN Yanfei of Spain had beaten the Singapore pairing of SUN Bei Bei and WANG Yue Gu in September.

In the Women’s Singles event at the Volkswagen Pro Tour Grand Finals in Fuzhou, SUN Bei Bei had lost to GAO Jun, the latter’s ability to block and create angles causing the young lady from Singapore a host of problems. Furthermore, it is in doubles events where GAO Jun excels and with the left handed SHEN Yanfei a prodigious duo has been formed.

GAO Jun and SHEN Yanfei duly won the first game 11-8 but in the second experienced more difficulties. They trailed 5-7, recovered to 7-8, levelled at 9-all but could not complete the comeback, with the Singapore duo winning the next two points to level the match score. Throughout the contest it was clear that the more experienced WANG Yue Gu was the `Team Leader’; she continually encouraged and advised the younger SUN Bei Bei, who one day earlier had won the Under 21 Women’s Singles title.

Captains
Meanwhile, for their opponents GAO Jun was the captain, advising SHEN Yanfei and no doubt encouraging her partner to topspin the ball from the backhand, so she could follow with a quick hit to win the point. The left handed SHEN Yanfei is a little unusual in the fact that she uses short pimples on the forehand and reversed rubber on the backhand, this combined with GAO Jun, who is a penhold grip player utilising one side of the racket only and playing with short pimples, creates a variety of spins and makes it difficult for opponents to establish a rhythm.

In the third game GAO Jun and SHEN Yanfei were in total harmony, they won the game 11-5 to go two games to one ahead; in the third they made the better start; heavy topspins from SHEN Yanfei’s backhand, attacks with no spin from GAO Jun gave them an early advantage but SUN Bei Bei and WANG Yue Gu stuck to their task and following the best point of the match, a rally littered with fast exchanges, they were level at 6-all.

The Singapore pair looked to play their forehand topspins at every opportunity, they fought, they took risks, at 9-all were level but experience told, GAO Jun and SHEN Yanfei won the next two points and were one game away from a place in the final. SUN Bei Bei and WANG Yue Gu fought, they established an 8-5 lead in the fifth game but lost the next two points prompting a `Time Out’. It did not change the course of proceedings, GAO Jun and SHEN Yanfei levelled and at 10-9 had match point. An opportunity was presented, they had fortune when a GAO Jun forehand clipped the top of the net and changed the direction of the stroke, the ball was returned but the point was lost and the duo of GAO Jun and SHEN Yanfei had reached the final.
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