by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Success earlier in the competition against Korea’s Jang Woojin in a seven games duel (8-11, 14-12, 10-12, 11-7, 11-9, 10-12, 11-3), followed by a six games decision in opposition to colleague Xu Xin (11-6, 11-7, 14-12, 4-11, 4-11, 13-11) en route, eventually Fang Bo proved too safe too consistent for Liang Jingkun.
Opportunities for Liang Jingkun were comparatively sparse, the chances to make an impact coming in a close first game when neither player was really settled to the task and in the third game when a substantial 7-4 lead was established.
Fang Bo reduced the deficit to one point at 8-7; Liang Jingkun elected for “Time Out” but was never able to capitalise on the break. The fact that Fang Bo secured the third game turned the tide; in the fourth he never looked back.
“I was mentally well prepared for the difficulties that I would face during the match, so I didn’t expect to win four-nil against Liang Jingkun. I think my performance has been improving along the way here in Qatar. In my match against Jang Woojin, I was not very used to the playing conditions, so that match was more intense. After that, the last match against Xu Xin and this match against Liang Jingkun, I played better”, Fang Bo
The “Time Out”, call by Liang Jingkun did not have a great influence on matters; the breaks requested by first Marcos Freitas and then Ma Long did not necessarily turn the tide but they did have an immediate effect.
Trailing 1-4 and down two games to nil, Marcos Freitas elected for “Time Out” and duly recovered to win the game; in the fourth with Ma Long leading 8-6, Qin Zhijian, the Chinese national coach, sitting courtside, decided a cautionary pause was needed. The words of wisdom clearly worked, Ma Long lost just one more point to secure the game.
“After the “Time Out” at 4-1 down in the third game I started to play better, more aggressively. He did not change anything; he just continued to play safe. I played at another level. In the fifth game I had a chance, I led 9-8 and I was serving. Overall I’m pleased with my performance here in Doha, yesterday I came back from three-one down against Tomislav Pucar. Today I played Ma Long, the best in the world; that’s the level I want to play against and play against more”, Marcos Freitas
In the fifth game Marcos Freitas came close time and time again but was never able to succeed at the crucial stages; Ma Long is known for his powerful forehand but I would suggest you do not need the fingers on more than one hand to count the players who have a superior backhand.
At the vital moments Ma Long was safe from the backhand, rock solid; the forehand in legendary mode. A safe backhand top spin, nothing expansive, played down the line deep to the backhand of Marcos Freitas; then move round and execute a devastating forehand at will.
“In the third game I didn’t receive his serves well, even though I led 7-4 in that game, I didn’t handle the next few points precise enough and that gave Freitas a chance to take the game. He played the last few points of that game well too. In the fourth game, I was leading 7-3, and he caught up, at 8-6, I decided to call for a “Time Out” to adjust my rhythm a little. The next point was Freitas to serve, so I wanted to give a more careful thought on how I should receive his serve”, Ma Long
At the semi-final stage Ma Long meets the winner of the contest between Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan and Japan’s Koki Niwa; for Fang Bo either the latter’s colleague, Masaki Yoshida of compatriot, Fang Bo await.