by Simon Daish
Opposing the German star was Japan’s Koki Niwa in a repeat of their Round of 16 encounter at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships, however, this time around it was Dimitrij Ovtcharov who came away smiling (10-12, 11-6, 12-14, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9, 11-5).
Very little separated the two players throughout the match and following the conclusion of game five it was actually Niwa who held the lead, but a positive response from Ovtcharov sent the match into a deciding seventh game.
With the scores tied up at three points apiece it was anyone’s game for the taking but a determined Ovtcharov soon raced ahead, establishing a commanding 10-4 lead. Niwa saved one match point but the next went in Ovtcharov’s favour as the top seeded player on duty in Astana booked his name at the top of the world rankings table.
“(World no.1) sounds unreal. I have been dreaming about that since I started playing, but I mean we have millions of players around the world working hard and they can soon read my name on the top of the list. That makes me proud and I’m very thankful to everyone who have supported me throughout my entire career… It was a tough match and he’s a very tough opponent. Actually it feels that this tournament is a new start for me and I need to refresh my mind. I’m talking to myself “Dima, it’s the Grand Finals, you have to play round by round, it’s not the final here in the first round. It’s four more matches to go and you can win the tournament!” But it’s still hard to change your mindset and I’m glad to make it through.” Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
There was another seven game thriller in the session as Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting ousted Belarusian legend Vladimir Samsonov from the competition, upsetting the seeding list in the process.
Wong Chun Ting, 12th seed, held off a late comeback effort from Vladimir Samsonov, eventually defeating the eighth seed by a two point margin in the final game (11-3, 12-10, 9-11, 13-11, 4-11, 8-11, 11-9) to advance to the quarter-finals.
Full distance matches for Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Wong Chun Ting but for Fang Bo and Tomokazu Harimoto it was quite the opposite.
China’s Fang Bo accounted for in form French competitor Simon Gauzy in his opening fixture at the tournament (11-6, 11-8, 11-8, 11-7) while Japanese star Tomokazu Harimoto broke the hearts of the home fans in Astana with a straight games victory over Kazakhstan’s Kirill Gerassimenko (11-9, 11-6, 11-5, 15-13).