by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
However, there was defeat for one player who relies on the defensive art. Russia’s Polina Mikhailova was beaten by Maria Xiao (11-4, 11-8, 11-5, 9-11, 5-11, 11-9); it was an upset, Polina Mikhailova is listed at no.67 on the current Women’s World Rankings, Maria Xiao is at no.89.
“I was well prepared by my coach, Polina is different to the other defenders, she attacks more, so it can be quite difficult to establish a rhythm against her. I went ahead three-nil, she changed her service, I did not receive well and I made mistakes blocking when she attacked. I lost confidence. After losing the fifth game I returned service better and became more confident.” Maria Xiao
Likewise, Suh Hyowon is a defender prepared to attack, especially by executing a forehand top spin; she beat Chinese Taipei’s Lin Chia-Chih (14-12, 11-7, 11-8, 11-9).
Meanwhile on the pecking order of defenders prepared to attack; arguably Li Qian is next on the list. She accounted for Korea’s Park Joohyun (11-3, 14-12, 11-13, 11-5, 11-7) but when crisis looms, solid backspin play is the mode. It is an art at which she excels; now name two female defensive players who for well over a decade have been rock solid, in particular from the backhand, when crisis looms, there has been no better than Kim Kyungah and Viktoria Pavlovich.
Kim Kyungah beat Chinese Taipei’s Lee I-Chen (11-6, 11-5, 11-6, 11-8), Viktoria Pavlovich ended the hopes of China’s Wang Yidi (7-11, 11-4, 12-10, 11-6, 14-12).
Expected wins from the stalwart defenders but was Wang Yidi not a possible “banana skin”; China has a reputation for developing complete players.
“I was ahead 7-5 in the first game and lost, I was not sure of myself but I liked the way she played. She played consistently but slowly, there was no fast first attack. It meant there were long points, so mentally it was really tough.” Viktoria Pavlovich
Patience prevailed but in order to exercise her skills and maintain her high level Viktoria Pavlovich has made recent changes with the advent of the plastic ball.
“The ball now drops quicker, you cannot put as much backspin on the ball as with the old one. I’ve changed the rubber on my racket. I’ve gone back to what I used over ten years ago. Now I use Tackiness D on the forehand, Long Feint on the backhand; I now feel confident with that combination.” Viktoria Pavlovich.
Now of the defenders who prevailed, I would suggest Suh Hyowon is the most able playing a forehand top spin. Is that the defensive style with the best future?
“I do not think in ten years’ time there will be no female defenders unless we change and play like the men with strong forehands.” Viktoria Pavlovich.
Chastening words but with value, as the concluding matches in the group stage of the Men’s Singles event began, Panagiotis Gionis of Greece proved the style can work for the man; he beat Korea’s Cho Daeseong in six games.
Now can that style work for a woman? At the 2027 Swedish Open we will know the answer.