by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Time and again Mika Baba, the national coach, has sent out Mima Ito to play the opening match; in the final the policy remained unchanged. The decision was justified.
Mima Ito secured the opening game then reduced a 5-8 deficit in the second to 7-8, compelling Li Sun, the Chinese National Team Coach, to call “Time Out”; the immediate effect was that the break worked.
Liu Shiwen won the third game before in the fourth establishing a 3-1 lead, now Mima Ito elected for “Time Out”. She recovered to force a fifth game but at the change of ends Liu Shiwen led 5-1, prior to at 10-8 holding two match points. Liu Shiwen was in the driving seat.
Positive, seizing the opportunity, Mima Ito won the next four points to steal victory (11-9, 8-11, 5-11, 11-8, 12-10). Japan held an unexpected lead.
“After I took the “Time Out”, when I was losing I was thinking what I could do to win the match I decided attack, attack and attack.” Mima Ito
“Mima Ito is very smart, she played very well, she was very good on the first three strokes in a rally. I must admit that she played better than I expected.” Liu Shiwen
Relentless machine gun like attacking play had brought success for Mima Ito; in the second match Miu Hirano followed a similar policy against Ding Ning. She lost the first game, before when down 3-6 in the second calling “Time Out”; she recovered to level at 9-all, saved one match point at 9-10 but could not repeat the feat on a second occasion.
The mind wandered back to just over a year ago in Wuxi at the Seamaster 2017 Asian Championships when, at the quarter-final stage in a best of five games Women’s Singles contest, Miu Hirano had recovered from a two games to nil deficit to emerge successful. Could she repeat the feat?
Miu Hirano established a 9-5 lead in the third; Ding Ning won the next five points, the first match point was saved but when, after saving yet another match point, Ding Ning on her second match point converted (11-6, 12-10, 13-11); China had levelled.
“At 5-9 down in the third game I looked for every opportunity to recover, it was vital in that game to stay strong mentally.” Ding Ning
Memory lane, it was somewhat the same for the next contest; in the Girls’ Team final at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Bratislava, Kasumi Ishikawa had beaten Zhu Yuling, later she was to lose in the Girls’ Singles final.
It was the latter verdict witnessed in Halmstad; Zhu Yuling controlled proceedings, leading 4-2 in the third game, Kasumi Ishikawa called “Time Out”; Zhu Yuling was not to be denied, just as earlier this year at the Team World Cup in London a straight games win was recorded (11-4, 11-7, 11-8).
“I played her recently and I won three-nil so I was quite confident; after the loss in the first match today we have recovered well. I hope we can continue to win the match and I hope the crowd enjoys the match.” Zhu Yuling.
The momentum was now with China and Liu Shiwen, having lost to Mima Ito in the opening match of the engagement had a point to prove. Against Miu Hirano, she proved the point but there was a moment of concern.
After winning the first two games, she trailed 6-10 in the third, before winning the next six points to secure victory.
“It’s a pity I did not win my first match especially after I was leading; I felt it was important that I won the fourth match. I am very happy that we are the World Champions; my thanks to all the fans who came here to support us.” Liu Shiwen
“Winning today is a real team effort. I thank everyone who is involved, all the coaches and everyone who has supported us. Now we go back to China and appraise the matches.” Ding Ning
It is the 21st time in what is now 26 finals that China has won the Women’s Team title at a World Championships.