by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Maybe revenge is in the air; maybe the tables will be turned and if there is one player who will be focused on setting matters straight it is Ma Long, the top seed.
One year ago when the tournament was also staged in Tokyo, Ma Long was beaten by Xu Xin at the semi-final stage; once again, this year, it is in that round that they meet again.
No doubt Xu Xin, the no.3 seed, can take some measure of expectation from that success but if Ma Long finds the form of the recent Liebherr 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf, when he accounted for Xu Xin in emphatic style in the penultimate round; the odds favour the Olympic and World champion.
Furthermore, could we be in store for another Düsseldorf classic, when in dramatic circumstances, Ma Long beat Fan Zhendong? In the adjacent semi-final Fan Zhendong, the no.2 seed, faces Jun Mizutani, the no.4 seed and Japan’s last remaining hope.
Jun Mizutani has never beaten Fan Zhendong in a world ranking event. They have met twice; Jun Mizutani experienced defeat GAC 2014 Asian Cup and one year later at the Liebherr Men’s World Cup.
Like Ma Long, he will be seeking a decision reversal and could there be another source of motivation for Jun Mizutani?
Outstanding at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where the only player against whom he suffered defeat was Ma Long but, at the recent Liebherr 2017 World Championships where Japan secured five medals, their best in recent times, not one belonged to Jun Mizutani. Has he a point to prove that he is still very much his country’s best player?
Meanwhile in the Women’s Singles semi-finals, in the top half of the draw, the vote is in favour of Wang Manyu against Chinese colleague, Sun Yingsha. Matches between colleagues are often no reflection of status but the fact that Wang Manyu has already competed in an ITTF World Tour Platinum semi-final and won, makes her the favourite.
Neither player with a current world ranking, the fact underlines the strength of China; for the final evidence points in favour of Chen Meng being the adversary.
The no.2 seed, she opposes Germany’s Han Ying, the no.6 seed; on the 2015 ITTF World Tour, Chen Meng did lose to Han Ying in both China and Sweden but more pertinently, earlier this year in Qatar, she emerged victorious.
Furthermore, Chen Meng has been in blistering form in Tokyo; en route to the semi-final she has dropped just one game, that being to Hong Kong’s Jiang Huajun in round two.
Also, you can add to the equation in trying to predict the finalists that Chen Meng and Wang Manyu have beaten the pride of Japan, a fact that underlines their quality and current good form. On her way to the final Wang Manyu beat both Kasumi Ishikawa and Mima Ito; Chen Meng ended the hopes of Miu Hirano.
The semi-final schedule is due to start at 10.00am; the finals at 2.00pm (local time).