by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Earlier in the day she had beaten colleague, Hitomi Sato at the semi-final stage, whilst on her one other appearance in an international Women’s Singles final of note, at the 2016 ITTF World Tour Belarus Open, she had accounted for the host nation’s Viktoria Pavlovich in the title deciding contest.
However, they say all defenders are different and it did take some time for Saki Shibata to adapt to the style of Polina Mikhailova who, after establishing a 10-6 lead and seeing it evaporate, eventually stood firm to win the opening game. It was not necessarily the backspin play of the Russian that caused Saki Shibata problems; the fact that Polina Mikhailova was prepared to vary the play by executing forehand top spin strokes caused doubts in the mind of Saki Shibata.
The first game lost from the start of the second, a rhythm was established, Saki Shibata was confident with her top spin play from the forehand. She established a three games to one lead. In the fifth game she won the first three points, Polina Mikailova called “Time Out”; Saki Shibata extended the lead to 6-0 before Polina Mikhailova mounted a recovery to reduce the deficit to 4-8 and 5-9. Alas for Russia, there was to be no memorable recovery.
At 10-5 Saki Shibata held five match points; perhaps seeing the winning post, she appeared just a little anxious, Polina Mikhailova played freely, she won the next three points but not the fourth, Saki Shibata had achieved her goal.
“This title is really important for my career. Previously I won one Challenger tournament, this is the second. I hope to win a major tournament in the near future. My goal is to be in the top ten next year. I like Belgium; I might come back next year to defend my title.” Saki Shibata
Success for Saki Shibata and a further title for her collection; additional to last year winning the Women’s Singles title in Belarus, she has three Under 21 Women’s Singles titles to her name. On the ITTF World Tour she won last year in Bulgaria, this year in Australia and China.