by Wade Townsend
With no athlete yet to pull away from the pack, it will be down to the final day of play to determine who of the Marvellous 12 will be taking the first ticket up for grabs to the Liebherr 2017 World Championships.
Four players remain in contention to top the men’s table; Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin and surprise contender Lin Gaoyuan.
With Zhang Jike pulling out, Ma Long only has one match remaining. But a win won’t guarantee a ticket to Dusseldorf and Ma will most likely be watching his fate from the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Fan Zhendong will have to see off both Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun.
Fan is stronger than Liang off both wings, with Liang’s smaller forehand action meaning he will be unable to win a battle of power. It will be down to touch, timing and spin if he is going to cause an upset.
The match of the day will most likely be between Fan and Xu Xin. When the pair squared off in last month’s trials it was an entirely different environment. A quiet hall with only coaches for spectators. Fan won there 2-1. The pressure in Shenzhen will be more intense and will likely produce one of the best matches of the tournament so far. Things will be tough for the southpaw as Fan’s backhand was on point yesterday and if it continues today Xu is going to struggle.
Either way a top place finish for Xu Xin is going to be difficult. He has to remain undefeated and then hope Ma Long makes a misstep.
Surprisingly, Lin Gaoyuan can conceivably take an unassailable lead, but he will know early if it’s possible. He has to defeat Ma in his opening match. However two wins will guarantee him top of the table, no matter the results of Fan Zhendong.
Calculators will be at the ready as a a count-back is almost a guarantee at this stage.
In the women’s the maths is a little simpler with only three players still in contention. Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning and Mu Zi all have a shot at winning stage one.
Without a loss so far Liu Shiwen is the favourite on paper. But her final opponents certainly aren’t pushovers. Liu will face-off against Zhu Yuling and Ding Ning.
Zhu Yuling could prove to be the thorn in Liu and Ding’s side. She is yet to play the two leaders, and despite not being in her best form so far, she has the potential to take down both opponents.
The biggest match should prove to be between Ding and Liu. The most likely scenario is that the winner of this match will take the ticket in a head to head count-back.
Mu Zi, while still in contention, can only win her final matches and hope the results on the other tables go her way.
A three way count-back is possibly on the cards. But that would require Ding Ning to lose to Gu Yuting who is currently sitting at the bottom of the table. But in best of three games nothing can be ruled out.
This writer is going to stick his head above the parapet and make a prediction, even though the Danish proverb suggests I’m in dangerous territory: Fan Zhendong and Ding Ning will top stage one and be first on the plane to Dusseldorf.
Comment below who you think will take the first ticket?