by Kabir Nagpal
When some of the most talented teams from the biggest continent in the world – in both population and popularity of the sport – collide, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt. Here’s a look at the top 10 takeaways from the Asian Championships till now:
China a step ahead of the rest
The top seeds were in top form as there was unprecedented success for Team China across the men’s and women’s team events, claiming victory in this tournament for no less than the 22nd time since 1972. In even more exciting stats, this was their 11th win in a row since 1996, only surrendering the title twice – in the inaugural year against Team Japan and in 1996 when Team Korea Republic succeeded instead.
By the performances of Ding Ning, Liu Shiwen, Wang Manyu, Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha for the women’s team and Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun for the men’s team, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games place was secured in an emphatic manner.
The biggest takeaway was about Liang Jingkun’s performance who, on his debut in the tournament, passed the test with flying colours. Liang’s most impressive match being against Kazuhiro Yoshimura, where he outplayed the Japanese player in a splendid 3-0 win (11-6, 14-12, 11-1).
Iran show great togetherness
If there were things to learn for the top seeds, there was plenty to learn about the underdogs of this tournament as well. Team Iran has been steadily rising to compete with the Asian elite and this tournament was further evidence of their progress. Their team bonding is one of their greatest strengths as no can miss when they make more noise to support one another in the hall than everyone else combined!
The main stay of Team Iran have been the Alamian brothers – Noshad and Nima have risen to task at hand, sounding out the more competitive nature of their country’s athletes. Claiming seventh position, Iran have shown their quality over the past week – and we are curious to see what comes next.
India keeping up the pace
Team India have always been a major player when it comes to Asian Championships and their athletes did not disappoint in Indonesia. The no.4 seeds, moved on to the quarter-finals of the men’s event in style, successfully topping their group thanks to the team of Sharath Kamal Achanta, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Harmeet Desai stepping up to the mark.
Upon facing Japan, India could not have made a better start. Sathiyan Gnanasekaran – the star of the tournament for the subcontinental nation – beat Tomokazu Harimoto in a striking straight games victory (11-4, 11-7, 12-10). While that was not enough to take them through as Japan won 3-1 overall, Team India finished fifth and thus if the same system is applied in 2021, they will find themselves into to the main draw directly.
Singapore youth learn harsh reality
It was not all sunshine and rainbows for the Asian superpowers, as the youthful Singaporean men’s team dropped from sixth to eighth position. The spirited battlers from Team Iran shocked Singapore’s young brigade 3-1 in the battle for seventh, after they had come up against Team China in a rude awakening of the ruthlessness of table tennis at the highest level.
But on a positive note, there was success against the odds for Team Singapore’s women, led by Feng Tianwei. Singapore’s journey started well when they came out on top against Maldives and Sri Lanka without dropping a single game. In the quarter-finals, the team of Lin Ye, Yu Mengyu and Feng Tianwei sprung a shock 3-1 victory over Korea Republic. Eventually, they ran into the behemoth that is Team China.
Hong Kong run into Thailand hurdle
Speaking of running into things, Team Hong Kong had a rather underwhelming tournament as their women’s team ran into in-form Thailand. Progressing safely through the qualification phase, the Thailand team of Suthasini Sawettabut, Orawan Paranag and Nanthana Komwong had experienced a 3-0 defeat when facing no.2 seeds, Japan’s Miu Hirano, Kasumi Ishikawa and Hitomi Sato – meaning they would face Team Hong Kong next.
Despite the humongous task at hand the Thai women’s team were in superb tandem as they stunned the Hong Kong women, with Doo Hoi Kem and Soo Wai Yam Minnie both losing out to Thailand’s Paranang Orawan. This resulted in no medals for Hong Kong across the team events at the Asian Championships, with signs that their plan may need some shaking up – and possibly more strength in depth.
Chinese Taipei maintain push without star prodigies
As for Team Chinese Taipei, there were successful bronze medals at both the men’s and women’s events. This was a singularly big achievement for the team, given the absences of Lin Yun-Ju and Chuang Chih-Yuan.
Their path to the semi-finals proved trickier than they had anticipated. Coming up against fierce competition in the form of Hong Kong, Team Chinese Taipei required a heroic display from Chen Szu-Yu who came out on top twice. This added to the a third win from Cheng I-Ching, proved invaluable in their conquest as they secured third place.
China’s biggest challenge still Japan
Despite all the battles Team China has to face off, it seems their rivalry with Team Japan remains the most interesting challenge of them all. Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto and Miu Hirano have been extremely consistent over the years in making Team China sweat, and it was no different here in Indonesia.
Japan’s line-up of Miu Hirano, Kasumi Ishikawa and Hitomi Sato were a delight to watch against Thailand in the quarter-finals and with Saki Shibata and Miyu Kato also available for selection, they had plenty of options to make it to the final. The same was true for the men’s team of Tomokazu Harimoto, Maharu Yoshimura and Kazuhiro Yoshimura, however, they met China at the penultimate stage instead, suffering a 3-0 loss.
DPR Korea lie in anxious wait for no change
The women’s team for DPR Korea rose from seventh position to fifth, which should be enough to gain direct entry for 2021 Asian Championships after their momentous performance here. That is, of course, if there are no changes in the qualification system.
Luckily for their fans, there were plenty of positives to takeaway. DPR Korea made sure to leave a mark at the Among Rogo stadium, with a clinical 3-0 victory over Korea Republic and then doubled down with a mirror performance versus Thailand.
Saudi Arabia raise West Asian flag
The men’s team for Saudi Arabia produced an impressive showing of their talents in the past week, raising themselves from 13th to 11th position. That may not sound like a huge jump, but their increasing competitiveness is surely setting the standard for west Asia.
Represented by Ali Alkhadrawi, Abdulaziz Bu Shulaybi and Abdulaziz Alabbad, Team Saudi Arabia secured top spot in their men’s team group, the crucial fixture being their first when they resisted a spirited challenge by the Philippines trio formed by Richard Gonzales, Jann Mari Nayre and John Misal. Speaking after their win, the west Asian athlete was positive about their progress:
“Jann uses long pimples on the backhand and returns with really heavy backspin, it was so hard playing against him. At the “Time Out”, the advice was to stay calm, not play too fast, play for long points, be patient. This win means a lot to me and the team” Ali Alkhadrawi
No assurances for any athlete in future events
The immense amount of quality on display here in Yogyakarta has proved one lesson true above all – there are simply no ‘gimmes’ in table tennis. Every athlete has had his and her work cut out during the past week, and there is no reason to suggest the same will not continue as we move on to the singles and doubles events.
Case in point, at the time of your reading this, there have been two major shocks already. DPR Korean pair Ri Jongsik and Ham Yu Song have knocked out no.3 seeds Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu in the men’s doubles Round of 32; while world no. 151 An Ji Song defeated world no. 16 Wong Chun Ting.