by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Notably Han Ying is one of only two defensive players on duty in the Women’s Singles competition, the other being Japan’s Hitomi Sato; meanwhile, for Shan Xiaona, she is the only representative of the pen-hold grip style.
It is a situation which in the case of Shan Xiaona reflects how the thinking of coaches has changed over the years, especially in Asia, as they have parted with tradition.
A total of 16 players in duty in the Women’s Singles event at the first ever ITTF World Tour Grand Finals staged in 1996 in Tianjin, the same number as now in Astana, on that occasion six of the players adopted the pen-hold grip. China’s Yang Ying, Hong Kong’s Chai Po Wa and Luxembourg’s Ni Xialian were on duty alongside the Korean trio formed by Park Haejung, Kim Mookyo and Lee Eunsil. Times have changed.
No pen-hold grip player has ever competed in the final of a Women’s Singles event at a Grand Finals but four have come close. Yang Ying reached the semi-final in 1996 and in 2000 in Kobe, similarly Park Haejung advanced to the penultimate round in 1997 in Hong Kong as did Korea’s Moon Hyunjung in 2005 in Fuzhou and Li Jiao of the Netherlands in 2010 in Seoul.
Less change in the 21 years of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals has been seen with regards to female defensive players; in fact, despite all the changes that have taken place since that time, the style has been strongly represented. Notably, in 1996 there was just one defender on duty, China’s Wang Hui. In 2017 it is double that number.
Now, since those days, additional to Wang Hui, the likes in particular of Korea’s Kim Kyungah and Park Miyoung, Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus, Poland’s Li Qian and Li Jie of the Netherlands have appeared in the Grand Finals.
However, for defensive players in the Women’s Singles event at a Grand Finals, it is to Germany we look; four of the nine players from that country who, over the years who have qualified for the Grand Finals, are defenders.
In addition to Han Ying, Jie Schöpp, Qianhong Gotsch and Jing Tian-Zörner all played in the Grand Finals. Alongside Shan Xiaona, the attacking options have been Elke Schall, Nicole Struse, Kristin Lang (the former Kristin Silbereisen) and Wu Jiaduo.
Notably, it is the fourth appearance at an ITTF World Tour Grand Finals for Han Ying and each performance is better than the previous; in 2014 in Thailand it was an opening round defeat, in 2015 in Lisbon a quarter-final exit, last year in Qatar the runner up; in Astana?