by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Luxembourg’s Ni Xia Lian stole the show, the winner of the Women’s Singles title on the ITTF World Tour in 1998 in the United States, when beating Germany’s Jing Tian-Zörner in the final, the now 53 year booked place in the final by causing upset after upset.
She beat Romania’s Bernadette Szocs, the no.6 seed and winner earlier this year at the Europe Top 16, in four straight games (11-8, 11-8, 11-9, 11-5), before overcoming the defensive skills of Russia’s Polina Mikhailova, the no.11 seed, in a contest where patience proved a virtue. Ni Xia Lian emerged successful by the very narrowest of seven games decisions (11-8, 10-12, 11-4, 3-11, 11-7, 10-12, 11-9).
Furthermore, Polina Mikhailova was in form; in the previous round she had beaten Japan’s Miyu Kato, the no.2 seed in four straight games.
Meanwhile for Honoka Hashimoto, the no.4 seed, after beating Victoria Pavlovich of Belarus, likewise a predominantly backspin player and the 12 seed 5-11, 11-6, 12-10, 11-7, 11-7), she was beaten by colleague Saki Shibata, the no.5 seed (9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-2, 6-11, 11-5), a player accustomed to the style of Honoka Hashimoto. A member of the same national team and a player who has already proved herself most capable when facing the defensive art.
Recently she won the Women’s Singles title at the 2018 ITTF World Tour Spanish Open overcoming Hitomi Sato, also from Japan, in the final, whilst in Zagreb in the third round she ended the hopes of Ukraine’s Ganna Gaponova, the no.14 seed (11-5, 7-11, 11-6, 13-11, 11-4).
Defeat for Hitomi Sato in Spain but in Zagreb so far it is success; after accounting for Spanish qualifier, Galia Dvorak in straight games (11-4, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4), she beat compatriot, Maki Shiomi, the no.8 seed, in a closely contested seven games duel (8-11, 11-2, 11-6, 8-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-8) to reserve her place in the semi-finals.
In the penultimate round Hitomi Sato meets Saki Shibata, in the opposite half of the draw, Ni Xia Lian once again faces Romania; she confronts Elizabeta Samara, the no.3 seed.
Elizabeta Samara reserved her semi-final place courtesy of a seven games third round win over Dina Meshref, the no.9 seed (11-13, 11-6, 16-14, 4-11, 12-10, 7-11, 11-6), prior to recording a six games success in opposition to Hungary’s Georgina Pota, the no.7 seed (5-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-7, 14-12, 11-8). Defeat for Dina Meshref but the performance underlines the high quality of the Egyptian and gives her just claim to be regarded as the best female player to emanate from Africa.
Play concludes in Zagreb on Saturday 14th April.