13 Nov 2017

Once upon a time, especially in Asia, it was the norm; female players adopting the pen-hold grip style of play but to find a Women’s Singles World champion who used such a technique, we have to return to 1993 in Gothenburg, when Korea’s Hyun Junghwa emerged successful.

Ever since that date, the winner has used the shake-hands grip and always the winner has been from China; thus on the opening day of play, Monday 13th November, in the qualification tournament for the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open in Stockholm it was a delightful sight to see the art continued.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

Enter England’s 19 year old Tin-Tin Ho from a country that has never previously spawned a player of that ilk and 23 year old Zhang Qiang from China, a country that has produced one or two players very adept in the art.

Both are modern day versions of Wang Hao, both execute the backhand top spin from the reverse side of the racket like the retired Chinese star but with a few miles an hour less speed.

Presently listed at no.205 on the Women’s World Rankings, Tin-Tin Ho who speaks the most perfect English you could ever imagine and puts my northern accent to shame, accounted for Hong Kong’s Li Ching Wan, listed at no.160. Furthermore, she won in four straight games (11-5, 11-7, 11-9, 11-6); it was a most impressive performance.

“I tried to change the rhythm of the match, play towards the middle and then when she started to get used to that, I played wide. Also she did have some problems returning my services. Today I did make some mistakes returning service with a backhand top spin as she varied the service from short to half-long. Especially it was difficult in the third game when it was 8-all, then 9-all and I had my serves to come. In the fourth game I took the “Time Out” at 10-6, my coach told me just play freely.” Tin-Tin Ho.

A win against expectations and were the odds not stacked even more against Tin-Tin Ho? Sitting courtside advising Li Ching Wan was Zhang Rui; herself a pen-hold grip player of note and a member of the Hong Kong silver medal winning outfit at the Liebherr 2004 World Championships in Doha.

Success for Tin-Tin Ho against predictions, the success for Zhang Qiang was as anticipated. Listed at no.68 on the Women’s World Rankings, she beat Japan’s Miko Tokunaga, a player with no current global status, in convincing fashion (11-6, 11-9, 11-3, 11-5).

“She wasn’t used to my style of play, there are not many pen-holders about these days; today my forehand was strong and the fact that I’m a pen-holder gave me an advantage in serve and receive.” Zhang Qiang

Both top spin from either wing, the pen-hold grip is perceived as the better nearer the net; for Tin-Tin Ho and Zhang Qiang, a winning formula.

World Tour 2017 Seamaster Swedish Open Tin-Tin Ho Zhang Qiang

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Day 4 - Seamaster 2017 ITTF Swedish Open