by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Arguably the Korean outfit was stronger than if they had been separate associations; however in the Japanese team, Mima Ito is increasingly the great team player, a player on whom you can rely time and again to deliver the goods.
Similar to Jeon Jihee, the 17 year old was hitherto unbeaten; she retained her unbeaten record. Staying close to the table at all times, never retreating, Mima Ito gave Jeon Jihee minimal time to execute her favoured forehand top spin stroke. She nullified the Korean’s most explosive weapon; a three straight games win was the order of the day (11-2, 11-8, 11-9).
The initial advantage to Japan, Kasumi Ishikawa doubled the advantage; she beat Kim Song I. At the recent 2018 ITTF Team World Cup in London, she had beaten Kim Song I in three straight games, a match that underlined the progress that she has made against defensive players in less than a two year period since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. On that occasion she had been beaten by the Korean in seven games, notably Kim Song I progressing to secure the bronze medal.
In Halmstad, it was very different to London; the magnitude of the occasion told, the verdict went in favour of Kasumi Ishikawa but in one of the most dramatic matches to date in the whole of the Championships.
At the crucial stage of the fifth game, either to secure a match point or the save a match point, Kim Song I secure success on three occasions with unreturnable edge balls One wondered of the spirits of sport were stacked against Kasumi Ishikawa; to her immense credit, she kept mind, body and soul together to secure victory in a quite titanic duel (11-4, 6-11, 11-8, 11-13, 16-14).
“It was a pressure match; Kim Song I is a really great player. It was hard to find a rhythm to the match. In the last game she had some luck but that’s sport but those points never cost me the match so I still had a chance to win. I just focused on playing one point at a time. Most certainly it was a difficult match, we played a team we never expected to play.” Kasumi Ishikawa
Japan two games to nil ahead, Miu Hirano as bright eyed as ever, concluded matters, she overcame a brave effort by Yang Haeun in four games (11-4, 11-5, 9-11, 11-6).
In the final, Japan meets the winners of the contest between China and Hong Kong.