by Simon Daish (featuring input by Ian Marshall, Editor)
A man in the spotlight
Following a highly successful outing at the recent Seamaster 2019 LION Japan Open in Sapporo, where he won all three titles he was eligible to compete for, Xu Xin is very much a player of significant relevancy at this period in time.
So far in 2019 alone Xu Xin has collected six ITTF World Tour trophies to his name, five of which have come in doubles. Combining with Liang Jingkun and Fan Zhendong to men’s doubles success Xu Xin has also prevailed with two different partners in the mixed doubles, winning silverware twice with Liu Shiwen and once most recently with Zhu Yuling. More importantly Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen emerged victorious at the Liebherr 2019 World Table Tennis Championships.
Xu Xin’s efforts as a singles player at the recent Japan Open should also be recognised for it was he that ousted World no.1 Fan Zhendong in an all-important semi-final clash before seeing off up-and-coming Chinese Taipei star Lin Yun-Ju in the final.
Plethora of strengths but is there a cost?
A unique player in his own right but Xu Xin’s fundamentals draw similarities to many of his penhold predecessors. Similar to three-time Olympic silver medallist Wang Hao, Xu Xin uses the backhand to top spin and block but he also likens to Liu Guoliang and Ma Lin who, in their day, used the backhand top spin not as a winning stroke but one to unleash a thunderous forehand top spin.
An advantage from a doubles point of view is that Xu Xin is left-handed which when used in combination of a right-handed player allows both the penhold specialist and his partner extra space to operate their forehand attack. Lightning quick sideways movement, Xu Xin excels playing short near the net, returning short and creating angles. An essential feature in doubles, he creates the opening for his right-handed partner.
Yet, as with any other player Xu Xin’s game does have its potential weak spot. While the left-handed/right-handed partnership has its benefits it can at times prove troublesome especially when the right-hander opts for a ‘banana’ return, leaving Xu Xin with less room to play to the best of his abilities. However, it’s fair to say that the positives clearly outweigh the negatives when it comes to Xu Xin as a doubles player.
Does a trip to Tokyo await?
Even with the scope of talent China has to offer it’s somewhat bewildering to reflect upon the fact that Xu Xin is yet to compete in the men’s singles event on the Olympic stage, having been restricted to the men’s team line-up in 2016.
Ma Long and Fan Zhendong are the hot favourites to gain the two available singles positions at Tokyo 2020 while we can also expect the likes of Lin Gaoyuan and Liang Jingkun to challenge for the privilege. However, don’t rule out Xu Xin – a strong finish to 2019 and a solid opening to his 2020 campaign surely keeps him in the picture?
When it comes to the men’s team and mixed doubles events the odds appear very much in Xu Xin’s favour. The fact of the matter is that at Rio 2016 the penholder helped China to the top step of the men’s team podium while he has also proven a highly formidable mixed doubles competitor in the past year. Will Xu Xin be present at Tokyo 2020? Nothing is for certain but if he stays fit and continues to deliver success on the international scene, then the odds are surely favourable?