by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Donny Aji and Lilis Indriani lost to Spain’s Alvaro Robles and Galia Dvorak but most certainly afforded a most creditable performance; they extended the European pairing the full five games distance (9-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-9, 11-3). Meanwhile, at the same time, Ficky Santoso and Gustin Dwijayanti did themselves justice; they extended Austria’s Stefan Fegerl and Sofia Polcanova to four games (6-11, 11-5, 12-10, 11-4).
If the players met in Men’s Singles or Women’s Singles events, would we have not have expected the margin of victory to be greater?
In the main draw, in the opening round Alvaro Robles and Galia Dvorak meet Germany’s Patrick Franziska and Petrissa Solja, the no.8 seeds; Stefan Fegerl and Sofia Polcanova confront Korea’s Lee Sangsu and Jeon Jihee, the no.4 seeds
Now which pairs are the favourites to progress? I might just back the seeded partnerships but is that not the fascination of Mixed Doubles? In this day and age, the event it is played so rarely that there is that extra element of uncertainty, greater than any other.
Masataka Morizono and Mima Ito, the reigning Japanese national champions occupy the top seeded spot; they are followed by Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem with Chinese Taipei’s Chen Chien-An and Cheng I-Ching being the no.3 seeds.
Now what are the chances of all four reaching the semi-finals? I suggest with the greatest of respect that they are remote.
China has a reach history in the discipline but an all Chinese final will not happen; Zhang Jike and Wang Manyu alongside Lin Gaoyuan and Chen Xingtong appear in the lower half of the draw.
They are both formidable pairs, the strong backhand of Zhang Jike combined with the consistency of Wang Manyu is an intimidating combination but surely the most exciting is that of the Lin Gaoyuan and Chen Xingtong. They are not dissimilar in style, both have rapier like forehands, with Lin Gaoyuan being left handed and Chen Xingtong right handed, it will be a difficult job for any pair to nullify their strengths.
Later in the year, with Mixed Doubles being on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games itinerary, the event will also be staged in Japan, Korea, Australia and Austria, as well as at the World Tour Grand Finals.
A fifth event and of equal standing with others, let us diffuse the notion that Mixed Doubles is a Cinderella competition; a point China’s Wang Liqin was very quick to make when he won with colleague Guo Yue at the Volkswagen 2005 World Championships in Shanghai.
The suggestion was made by a journalist, who certainly wasn’t a member of Mensa International that it was a secondary win and of relatively no importance; Wang Liqin put the ignoramus in his place with words to the effect that it is gold medal, exactly the same as any in any other event and very difficult to win. Furthermore, it meant he now had the full house of World Championship titles; he was a proud man.
Equally, have we not now turned full circle? Go back to a totally different era, the 1950s and 1960s, there were no Under 21 events and Mixed Doubles was always on the international tournament schedule. Again was it not the event with the greatest level of uncertainty? Most certainly the victorious nation celebrated.
In the language of Jacques Secretin and Claude Bergeret, when in 1977 in Birmingham, they collected the first ever gold medal for France at a World Championships: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.