by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
A member of the same national team, the backspin skills exerted by Hitomi Sato caused Saki Shibata relatively few problems as play commenced; her consistent top spin play, changing direction at every opportunity, forcing her opponent to cover every centimetre of the playing area reaped dividends.
It was only when on the brink of victory in the fourth game that there were signs of hesitation in the attacking play of Hitomi Sato; she saw the winning post.
Hitomi Sato to her great credit fought; when the opportunity arose she changed from defence to attack and gave Saki Shibata food for thought. The confidence witnessed in the opening three games was not present in the fifth game, after the close fourth had been lost.
Time to steady the ship, in the sixth game, following the well-worn adage of playing one point at a time, focused and calm, Saki Shibata established a 10-7 lead; three match points, just one was needed.
Notably for Saki Shibata it was her third appearance in an ITTF Challenge Series Women’s Singles final and her third success. Last year in Poland she had been beaten in the final by colleague Mima Ito, before earlier in the year having won in Belarus when like today, she beat a defender in the final; on that occasion she overcame Russia’s Polina Mikhailova to claim the top prize.
Meanwhile, taking into account both the ITTF World Tour and the ITTF Challenge Series, it was for Hitomi Sato her fifth Women’s Singles final; notably her first defeat when progressing to the title decider.
In 2016 she had won in Zagreb, last year she succeeded in Belarus, Thailand and Slovenia.