by Simon Daish
On Sunday 10th June 2018, Chen Xingtong took on home favourite Mima Ito in the women’s singles semi-finals at the 2018 Japan Open in what proved to be a heated encounter. Leading the scoreboard by three games to zero, Chen failed to make it over the finish line as Ito sent the Japanese fans wild with an almighty comeback display that will rightly be remembered for a long time to come.
There were scenes of elation for Ito but for Chen the defeat was hard to take; she had come so close but was forced to settle for a penultimate round finish. Looking back on that day, Chen believes her stunning exit has actually, in a roundabout way, given her valuable match experience that could help her further down the line in her career.
“It was in the semi-final at the 2018 Japan Open the last time I met Mima Ito. I led 3-0 on games and then 9-4 on points in the fourth game, but still lost the match. She became the champion. I concluded and learnt a lot from that match which is really helpful for this time. Mima has been making a lot of progress during the past year, especially in the ability to play and to catch the opponent’s shortcomings. But I do not think I am at a disadvantage when playing against her.” Chen Xingtong
In their first head-to-head battle since that dramatic day in Sapporo, Chen and Ito were once again involved in a vigorous seven-game scrap at the 2019 Bulgaria Open in Panagyurishte, before meeting for the second time in the space of a week at the 2019 Czech Open in Olomouc. On both occasions it was Chen who held the upper hand.
“This time in Bulgaria, I made full preparation in mentality. When stepping into the court… I did not feel she was unbeatable. She did not have anything that could really constrain me. So, I won the match 4-3. One week later, I beat her again in round two of the Czech Open 4-2. Frankly speaking, I felt more pressure this time than in Bulgaria.” Chen Xingtong
Chen faced a second Japanese opponent in her quest for silverware at the 2019 Czech Open in the form of Miu Hirano. Their meeting occurred at the final hurdle, and what a fascinating contest it turned out to be.
Down by three games a late comeback bid was launched by Hirano, who successfully managed to level the scores at 3-3. Fears were beginning to emerge that Chen could be set for a repeat outcome from last year in Sapporo. But, this time around the Chinese competitor made full use of her prior experience, keeping her focus and remaining calm to get the job done (11-8, 11-5, 11-7, 8-11, 12-14, 8-11, 11-8).
Victory in Olomouc was no easy feat and Chen should be commended for her effort. However, it’s the manner of the win that is arguably more important as she proved that she had learnt her lesson from her disappointment one year ago in Sapporo: it’s never over until it’s over!
“She was in good form, especially after beating Liu Weishan and Kasumi Ishikawa. I quickly set up a good 3-0 lead and then my mindset changed a bit… I felt I was very very near to becoming champion. She was very calm and did not make many unforced errors. She just fought and levelled the score 3-3. This match was more about mentality. I should recognise that I did not give up even when she levelled the score at 3-3.” Chen Xingtong
Back-to-back successes for in Panagyurishte and Olomouc, Chen Xingtong definitely enjoyed her fair share of the spotlight in August. The young Chinese player says that she is grateful to have been given the opportunity to lead her country to glory at the two events and is hoping for more international exposure in the not too distant future.
“China didn’t send the main players for these two matches. For some players, maybe they are only ‘small’ tournaments, but for me, these are two of the most important events. I can only win the chance to attend big events if I win the ‘smaller’ events. I want to play more matches in the future, so I really cherish every opportunity to compete.” Chen Xingtong