New event. New incentives. New spectacle. New champions. The Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Portugal Open saw a number of rising stars grasp the chance to compete and claim silverware on the international stage.
The very first event of the inaugural ITTF Challenge Plus series, held between 13-17 February in Lisbon, also provided plenty of thrilling table tennis and memorable moments:
HIGH DRAMA FOR HAYATA
Hina HAYATA (JPN) was the worthy winner of the Women’s Singles title. The 18-year-old 11th seed saw off top seed LIU Shiwen (CHN) and 8th seed Georgina POTA (HUN) on Saturday before overcoming HU Limei (CHN) on Sunday to book a place in the final against compatriot, Honoka HASHIMOTO (JPN).
The Japanese duo played out a dramatic seven-game thriller, with HASHIMOTO claiming a two-game advantage before HAYATA fought back to lead 3-2 and ultimately seal a 4-3 victory (9-11, 8-11, 11-4, 12-10, 11-3, 8-11, 11-8).
For HAYATA this was a first international Singles title since the 2017 Challenge Spanish Open in Almeria.
STRONG START TO 2019 FOR LIANG JINGKUN
LIANG Jingkun (CHN) was the revelation of the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour, in which he finished fourth, and the 22-year-old is demonstrating that last year’s achievements were no fluke, as he followed up on his Men’s Doubles gold at January’s Hungarian Open by winning the first ever Challenge Plus title.
Third seed LIANG overcame four Chinese opponents in the latter stages: WANG Chuqin, NIU Guankai, LIU Yebo and LIN Gaoyuan. Having dropped just one game in four matches heading into the semi-final, LIANG trailed 2-0 and 3-1 against LIU before winning three consecutive games to reach the final.
Once again, he had to come from behind against top seed LIN, who had just beaten Vladimir SAMSONOV (BLR) 4-2 in the semi-final and was tipped for a second successive title following Men’s Singles gold at the Hungarian Open. However, LIANG’s resilience shone through once more, as he fought back from losing the first game to claim a 4-1 victory (6-11, 12-10, 14-12, 11-7, 11-6).
DEBUT WINS FOR CHINESE DOUBLES PAIRS
FAN Siqi and YANG Huijing (CHN) were crowned Women’s Doubles champions after yet another absorbing final in Lisbon, in which they overturned a two-game deficit to defeat Dora MADARASZ and Szandra PERGEL (HUN) 3-2 (8-11, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-2).
To complete a clean sweep of comebacks across all four of Sunday’s finals, CAO Wei and XU Yingbin (CHN) sealed Men’s Doubles gold with a 3-1 victory (5-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-7) over Shunsuke TOGAMI and Yukiya UDA (JPN).
For both Chinese Doubles pairs, the Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Portugal Open yielded their very first international titles.
HIGHER POINTS, PRIZE MONEY & COMPETITION!
The fact that so many new names announced themselves on the world stage in Lisbon proved the theory behind launching the ITTF Challenge Plus: that upcoming players gain exposure to elite table tennis competition to challenge themselves, earn international recognition and experience, thus reaching the next level in their careers.
The ITTF Challenge Plus – the first of a rebranded, two-tier ITTF Challenge series – also offers players higher world ranking points and increased prize money.
Consisting of six events per year, the ITTF Challenge Plus also allows a higher number of cities to get on board and stage an international table tennis event.
The second ITTF Challenge Plus event will bring the show to new shores once more, as Muscat gets set to host the Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open between 20-24 March.