by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
The defensive skills of Honoka Hashimoto and Hitomi Sato proved too secure, combine that factor with their ever increasing confidence when the attacking option arises, the Japanese duo was never in serious danger of defeat.
Furthermore, for Sarah de Nutte and Ni Xialian it was their first ever appearance in either an ITTF World Tour or ITTF Challenge Series Women’s Doubles final as a partnership; especially for Sarah de Nutte it was a totally new experience but one that underlines the progress she is making and in Ni Xialian has an ideal partner.
Vastly experienced is one factor, s second is her close to the table pen-hold grip style of play; the experts will tell you that in doubles when returning the ball short, creating angles is crucial, in that sphere Ni Xialian excels.
It is also a style that has stood the test of time; now 54 years old, in 1997 partnering colleague Peggy Regenwetter the duo won the Women’s Doubles title at the 1997 ITTF World Tour Polish Open in Gdansk, they beat Austria’s Petra Fichtinger and Judit Herczij in the final. Other than in 1998 when Ni Xialian beat Germany’s Jing Tian-Zörner in the final of the United States Open, is the only title ever won by Luxembourg on the ITTF World Tour.
History puts into perspective the performance of Sarah de Nutte and Ni Xialian; it was a most worthy effort.
Also Ni Xialian has proved herself outstanding in a doubles combination when defensive players are at the opposite side of the table; in Tokyo at the 1983 World Championships, she won the Mixed Doubles title partnership with Guo Yuehua; the adversaries in the final, the cartwheeling Chen Xinhua and Tong Ling, the last female primarily defensive player to win the Women’s Singles event at a World Championships, she won in 1981 in Novi Sad.
Meanwhile, for Honoka Hashimoto and Hitomi Sato, they added to their list of titles; overall taking into account the ITTF World Tour and the ITTF Challenge Series, they have now played in eight Women’s Doubles finals and have emerged as champions on a most creditable seven occasions.
In 2016 on the ITTF World Tour they won in Australia, Belarus and Austria, whilst last year when defending their Austrian title in Linz, they finished in runners up spot. However, that is their only defeat when reaching the final; in 2017 at ITTF Challenge Series tournaments, they won in Croatia, Thailand and Belgium-
Now in Guadalajara, they won again.