by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
A close first game was the order of proceedings with Yang Haeun having a sliver of chance; after trailing 4-7, she levelled matters at 7-all but was never able to assume the lead.
The problem faced was rarely could she win the point with a tirade of attacking top spin strokes; penetrating the defensive skills, just as for those opponents who had gone before in Spala, proved an arduous task.
Long points, intersperse forehand top spin with push strokes; simply be patient and work, work, work. Finding a balance was the quest; play too safe and Honoka Hashimoto underlined the fact that her attacking skills are most potent.
An air of resolve, Yang Haeun secured the second game; then in the third led 10-9, with Honoka Hashimoto prepared to turn defence into attack she saved two game points, before on her second chance to take the lead at 13-12 gaining success.
Slightly more confident, stronger with the top spin strokes, aware of the Honoka Hashimoto attacking option, in the fourth game Yang Haeun accelerated from 4-2 ahead to 8-4 before at 10-5 holding five game points; Honoka Hashimoto won the next three points, Yang Haeun called “Time Out”. It proved a wise move; she won the next point and now led by three games to one.
A look on the face that suggested “I can do it”, Yang Haeun established a 9-6 lead in the fifth game; Honoka Hashimoto won the next point and perhaps somewhat belatedly called “Time Out”. However, the pause was in vain; Yang Haeun moved ahead 10-7; adopting the attacking option, Honoka Hashimoto saved one match point, she could not save a second.
The title belonged to Korea, to Yang Haeun.
It was for Yang Haeun, in her first ITTF Challenge Series title decider, at last; on the ITTF World Tour she had reached the final of the Women’s Singles event in 2012 in Almeria, three years later in Buenos Aires and in 2016 in Hungary. In all three instances she had experienced defeat, colleagues Kim Kyungah and Jeon Jihee followed by Hong Kong’s Tie Yana proving the respective stumbling blocks.
Meanwhile, for Honoka Hashimoto it was her fourth appearance in an ITTF Challenge Series Women’s Singles final, she has never reached such a round on the ITTF World Tour, it was her third defeat.
Last year she had been beaten in the final in both Belarus and Thailand by her doubles partner, colleague Hitomi Sato; in Croatia she had overcome Austria’s Sofia Polcanova to secure the top prize. In Spala it was defeat, her nemesis Yang Haeun