by Ian Marshall, Editor
Lin Gaoyuan seeks to become the ninth Chinese player to arrest the precious Men’s Singles title at an ITTF World Tour Grand Finals; it is from that group the current youngest exists.
Staged in Guangzhou, on Sunday 14th December at the 2003 Grand Finals, Wang Hao beat compatriot Hao Shuai to arrest the title; to this day he is the only teenager achieve such success and he only just made it. He celebrated his 20th birthday one day later on Monday 15th December!
Even if Tomokazu Harimoto has to settle for runners up spot in Incheon, he has four more chances; when the Grand Finals are held in 2022, he will still be almost six months younger than when Wang Hao won for the first time.
Now, if we add the Women’s Singles event to the equation, to be the youngest, Tomokazu Harimoto must win in Incheon. On Sunday 16th December, he will be 15 years and 172 days old; on Sunday 12th December when China’s Guo Yue beat compatriot Niu Jianfeng in Beijing in the 2004 Grand Finals, she was 16 years and 148 days old.
However, overall the youngest ever accolade remains firmly in the grip of Tomokazu Harimoto’s colleagues, Miu Hirano and Mima Ito; when they secured the Women’s Doubles title in 2014 in Bangkok, Miu Hirano was 14 years and 244 days old, Mima Ito 14 years and 54 days old.
Straight games semi-final wins for Lin Gaoyuan against Japan’s Jun Mizutani (11-5, 11-9, 11-6, 12-10) and for Tomokazu Harimoto in opposition to Brazil’s Hugo Calderano (11-7, 11-8, 11-8, 11-5) must fill both with confidence but if there is one player who must be oozing confidence it is He Zhuojia, the no.12 seed in the Women’s Singles event. At the semi-final she beat Chinese national team colleague Ding Ning, the no.5 seed (12-14, 9-11, 19-17, 11-4, 11-6, 11-5), the young lady who when the Women’s World Rankings are announced for January, will head the list.
Notably the defeat for Ding Ning means that legendary compatriot, Deng Yaping remains the only player to hold the Olympic Games, World Championships (Women’s Team, Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles), Team World Cup and ITTF World Grand Finals titles all at the same time.
It is for He Zhuojia a major opportunity to prove herself; prior to the Seamaster 2018 Austrian Open, the concluding tournament on this year’s calendar, she was not amongst the list of potential qualifiers; a semi-final finish secured her invitation. The form she displayed in Austria, where she lost to Wang Manyu in the penultimate round has continued in Incheon, so has that of colleague, Chen Meng, the eventual winner. The defending champion, the no.6 seed, she recorded a six games semi-final success in opposition to team mate Zhu Yuling, the no.7 seed (9-11, 11-6, 11-5, 5-11, 13-11, 11-3), a repeat of last year’s final in Astana.
Arguably the player with the greater experience, Chen Meng starts as the favourite but the form displayed by He Zhuojia has been an eye-opener; also there is a debt to settle. In the first Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour tournament of the year, Chen Meng beat He Zhuojia in the second round but it was close; six games were needed (11-8, 10-12, 11-2, 4-11, 11-3, 11-2).
Success earlier in the year for Chen Meng; it is a very similar situation in both the Men’s Doubles and Women’s Doubles title deciders.
In the Women’s Doubles final, Japan’s Hina Hayata and Mima Ito, the top seeds, meet China’s Chen Xingtong and Sun Yingsha; the pair they beat in the recent title decider on the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour in Austria.
Likewise in the Men’s Doubles final, Jang Woojin and Lim Jonghoon, the no.5 seeds, oppose a pair against whom they have enjoyed prior success and most pertinently on home soil; they face Hong Kong’s Ho Kwan Kit and Wong Chun Ting, the no.3 seeds, the pair they beat in July to clinch gold at the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Shinan Korea Open.
Revenge is in the air.