by Ian Marshall, Editor
He beat Korea Republic’s Jang Woojin, the no.10 seed, in six games (11-13, 11-6, 11-5, 11-8, 10-12, 11-4) to book his place in the last eight of an ITTF World Tour men’s singles event for the first time in his career; by comparison, Jang Woojin has two such titles to his credit. In 2016 he won in Minsk, last year on home soil in Daejeon.
“His forehand was very strong; it caused me problems. It was important that I was positive from the start and that I imposed my game on the match.” Zhao Zihao
Success against Jang Woojin was no less than the fifth match of the tournament to date for Zhao Zihao. Required to qualify he accounted for Aliaksandr Khanin of Belarus (11-8, 11-5, 11-4, 11-6), before overcoming Hungary’s Adam Szudi (11-4, 11-6, 8-11, 11-6, 8-11, 11-4) and Frenchman Alexandre Cassin (11-8, 11-5, 11-3, 11-3) to reserve his place in the main draw.
Broke Swedish hearts
It was at the juncture of proceedings, he broke Swedish hearts. He accounted for Mattias Falck, the no.6 seed (16-18, 11-9, 10-12, 11-7, 13-11, 11-7).
“Playing Mattias was very different, short pimpled rubber on the forehand; he was on home soil and was under pressure. The crowd had high hopes for him. I could play freely. Certainly beating the player who was the runner up earlier this year at the World Championships, gives you confidence.” Zhao Zihao
Notably, Zhao Zihao is different to the vast majority of young players trying to make their mark on the international scene. He is a right handed pen-holder; against Jang Woojin, his speed and the lethal early timing of the ball were principal factors in causing the Korean’s downfall.
Basically a clone of Wang Hao had entered the scene but generally playing at a much faster pace; the notable factor, the effectiveness of the backhand top spin strokes.
“I think the key factors for me are speed and varying the spin on the ball, I don’t think it matters how you hold the racket, what is important is that you win!” Zhao Zihao
Win and he did just that; it was also a feat he achieved at just under a year ago last November in Minsk; at the 2018 ITTF Challenge, Belgosstrakh Belarus Open; he won both the men’s singles and under 21 men’s singles titles.
Past success, moreover he hails from a city that is has a pedigree of excellence in the sport of table, the city of Shanghai.
In the 1960s Li Furong and Xu Yinsheng gained honours at the highest level, in 1979 Cao Yanhua won the women’s singles title at the World Championships in Pyongyang. In more recent times three times world champion, Wang Liqin is a son of the city, as is the man who stands at the top of the current world rankings, a certain Xu Xin.
Illustrious names, now add one more to list, arguably the fastest of them all, the rapid-fire Zhao Zihao.