by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Ding Ning, who later this month will celebrate her 28th birthday, was safe and secure against Hitomi Sato; whatever the number of returns Hitomi Sato could make using her textbook defensive skills, Ding Ning could return one more.
Long gone are the teenage days when soon after being crowned World Junior champion in the Austrian city of Linz in 2005, Ding Ning experienced difficulties on the ITTF World Tour when facing the backspin play of the likes of Korea’s Kim Kyungah.
Meanwhile for Saki Shibata, if an award was to be made for the most improved female player in the first six months of the year, she would be a strong candidate, if not the clear favourite.
Currently she stands at no.2 on the Under 21 Women’s World Rankings, having one month earlier shared top spot alongside Hong Kong’s Minnie Soo Wai Yam. On the Women’s list she is at no.24, four places ahead of Jeon Jihee who occupies the no.28 spot.
However, the win recorded by Saki Shibata over Jeon Jihee could be considered an upset. Last year they met at the semi-final stage of the 2017 ITTF Challenge Series Spanish Open and in the opening round at the Seamaster 2017 China Open in Chengdu. On both occasions it was success for Jeon Jihee.
The remaining quarter-final contests, China’s Wang Manyu versus Germany’s Han Ying and the all Japanese duel involving Kasumi Ishikawa and Mima Ito, plus both semi-finals, will be played on Saturday 2nd June.