by Blythe Lawrence
Yes, things could have gone better for Vladimir Samsonov, the 2017 Austrlian Open champion, whose bid for a second men’s singles title ended with a 4-1 loss to 21-year-old Cho Seungmin from Korea (9-11, 11-4, 11-8, 11-7, 11-5). After the match, Cho paid homage to the 43-year-old icon of the game, saying he felt “honoured and nervous to play such a legendary European player.”
“I have always admired my opponent so I was very nervous to play against someone I look up to. I was really nervous in the first set but I lost by 9:11 so I felt the match was doable. I was playing really well and there were some unforced errors from Samsonov, which was lucky for me.” Cho Seungmin
Then there was China’s Zhou Kai, who came away with a hard-fought 4-3 victory in his endurance race against Simon Gauzy (14-12, 4-11, 6-11, 11-9, 12-14, 11-9, 11-9). Zhou came to the table having done his homework against the 2016 French Olympian.
“I tried my best to challenge my opponent because recently he’s been performing quite well I fought point by point and played some of my best table tennis. Tomorrow will be similar — the main focus is to perform my best and fight for every point and hopefully win some more matches.” Zhou Kai
For Japan’s Miyu Kato, being faced with Australian Jee Minhyung meant confronting an opponent who had racked up an impressive resume — not to mention adapting her game to meet a new challenge.
“I didn’t know much about her, but I found that she defeated several famous players when I was preparing for this match, so I’m glad that I won,” said Kato, who contained Jee 4-0 (11-9, 11-7, 11-9, 11-4). How did she do it? The twenty-year-old. who shares a first and last name with a professional tennis player from Kyoto, employed the use of a stand-in for Jee when preparing for the match.
“Minhyung mixes her shots with pips rubber and inverted rubber, but I practised with the same type of player beforehand and it helped me maximise my performance,” she commented.
New Zealand’s Dean Shu, who defeated Australia’s Rohan Dhooria 4-1, underscored the camaraderie between players, who often exchange friendly greetings with familiar faces despite language barriers.
“I played Rohan a number of times in the past year so we know each other quite well,” he commented. Of course, competition remains competition, and kind words come after the fact. Looking across the table at Dhooria, “I tried to focus on myself,” Shu said. It worked, too: “I had a strong [match] that went well.”