by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
China duly recorded a three-nil win; the trio that had struck gold at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games being the selection. Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike delivered.
Ma Long overcame Pak Sin Hyok (11-7, 11-8, 11-1), before Xu Xin beat Choe Il (13-11, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5) and Zhang Jike rewarded the faithful by beating Kang Wi Hun (11-6, 11-13, 6-11, 11-8, 11-8).
Success for the three names that had brought glory to China last year; it was also success for Qin Zhijian in his first outing as the Chinese National Men’s Team coach.
“The three performed to their level today, there were some tense moments during the matches, I’m pleased to see the members of the Rio 2016 team playing again. It is different now to when I was at the Olympic Games; there I sat in the tiered seating, here I was on the bench. Ma Long was stable as usual; Xu Xin had some problems so we needed to talk. I am familiar with Ma Long and Xu Xin; it takes longer with Zhang Jike because I am less familiar with him. Overall of course, I’m pleased we won the match”, Qin Zhijian
A first for Qin Zhijian, it was also a first for Massimo Costantini, it was his first outing since returning as the National Coach for India and how near he came to pulling off a quite sensational success.
India had chance after chance. After Soumyajit Ghosh had given his team the perfect start by beating Yuya Oshima (7-11, 11-7, 11-6, 8-11, 11-6), Sharath Kamal Achanta held a total of three match points in the fourth game against Koki Niwa before losing (11-1, 6-11, 8-11, 14-12, 12-10).
Agonising defeat, it was almost the same for Harmeet Desai, he led Kenta Matsudaira by two games to one and stood level at 10-all before eventually experiencing a five games defeat (5-11, 8-11, 11-2, 14-12, 11-6).
Sharath Kamal Achanta returned to the fray, he beat Yuya Oshima (11-8, 11-13, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6) to set the scene for Soumyajit Ghosh and Koki Niwa to decide matters.
The verdict went in favour of Koki Niwa (9-11, 11-9, 11-7, 11-4); he was the hero of the hour, the backbone of Japanese success.