07 Dec 2019

Winner in early November in Belarus, Frenchman Emmanuel Lebesson, elevated to the top seeded position in the men’s singles event following the withdrawal of Japan’s Koki Niwa through injury, was the biggest name to fall, as play progressed to third round of proceedings on Friday 6th December at the Benemax-Virgo 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus North American Open in Markham.

However, he was not alone amongst the principal names, India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta, Belgium’s Cédric Nuytinck, Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej and Russia’s Kirill Skachkov kept him company, as in the women’s singles did Japan’s Hina Hayata and Saki Shibata in addition to the host nation’s Zhang Mo.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Defeat for Emmanuel Lebesson and a touch of irony. He was beaten in the opening round by China’s Yuan Licen (7-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-7, 11-6), the player the previous day who had lost to Irvin Bertrand, like Emmanuel Lebesson from France (7-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9, 10-12, 11-6) and by sheer fortune had gained the one and only “Lucky Loser” main draw place available.

An opportunity, Yuan Licen made the most of the good fortune; in his next contest he beat colleague, Ren Hao (10-12, 12-10, 11-7, 15-13, 11-8) to reserve a third round place.

Impressive from Yuan Licen, it was the same from colleagues, Cao Wei and Liu Yebo, likewise qualifiers, as it was for Xue Fei, the no.27 seed. In the second round Cao Wei and beat India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta, the no.2 seed (5-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-3, 14-12), Liu Yebo accounted for Lubomir Pistej (11-6, 11-7, 7-11, 7-11, 11-3, 11-6), Xue Fei ousted Kirill Skachkov, the no.8 seed (11-6, 11-5, 11-4, 11-5).

Joining the party, not to be upstaged and to some extent redeeming French honour, in the second round, Alexandre Robinot, the no.24 seed, ended the hopes of Belgium’s Cédric Nuytinck, the no.3 seed. 18-16, 11-3, 16-14, 13-11).

Defeat for Kirill Skachkov at the hands of Xue Fei (Photo: Thorsten Gohl)
Unexpected names

Surprise names in the third round who had started the journey in the qualification tournament; China’s Zhou Kai, Xu Haidong, Xiang Peng and Zhao Zhaoyuan alongside Jules Rolland, like Alexandre Robinot from France, added to the list. Likewise, there were unexpected third round places for India’s Manav Vikash Thakkar, the no.25 seed, as well as for Canada’s Eugene Wang, the no.31 seed.

Overall, the result was that just four players advanced to the last 16 as status advised. Japan’s Maharu Yoshimura, the no.4 seed, secured his place in round three, as did Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic, the no.5 seed and Hungary’s Bence Majoros, the no.14 seed.

The one further name to advance was that of Frenchman Can Akkuzu, the no.7 seed. He progressed but only just, in the second round he was stretched to the limit by Puerto Rico’s Daniel Gonzalez (11-7, 10-12, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4, 7-11, 12-10).

Can Akkuzu tested by Daniel Gonzalez (Photo: Rémy Gros)

Farewell to major names, it was also farewell to one of the most successful players of the year. Five women’s singles Challenge Series titles to her credit in 2019, the no.5 seed in Markham, Hina Hayata suffered a second round defeat at the hands of China’s Guo Yuhan (12-10, 9-11, 12-10, 11-9, 5-11, 13-11).

Meanwhile, Zhang Mo, the no.6 seed and Saki Shibata, the no.7 seed, both departed at the first hurdle. Zhang Mo was beaten by Poland’s Magdalena Sikorska (11-8, 11-9, 8-11, 6-11, 7-11, 11-9, 12-10), Saki Shibata lost to China’s Yang Huijing (9-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-9, 11-7).

Notable first round wins but the delight was short lived, both departed in round two. Magdalena Sikorska was beaten by India’s Manika Batra, the no.19 seed (11-5, 11-7, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11), Yang Huijing lost to Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin, the no.17 seed (11-13, 11-5, 11-8, 8-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6).

Journey’s end for two players who had been required to negotiate the qualification round. However, for three further qualifiers it was a different scenario. All in the top half of the draw, in addition to Guo Yuhan, colleague Wang Xiaoting, Li Jiayi and Leng Yutong all booked third round places. Similarly against the odds, also from China, Zhang Qiang, the no.27 seed negotiated the opening rounds.

A surprise second round defeat for Hina Hayata (Photo: Thorsten Gohl)
Top half of draw

Upsets, if fact in that part of the draw, which includes Manika Batra, of the top 16 names, only Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa, the top seed and colleague, Miyu Kato, the no.4 seed, advanced to round three.

Somewhat differently in the lower half of the draw, Japan’s Miu Hirano, the no.2 seed, alongside compatriots Hitomi Sato, the no.3 seed and Honoka Hashimoto, the no.4 seed, duly marched forward. Likewise, Ukraine’s Margaryta Pestoska, the no.9 seed, Russia’s Polina Mikhailova, the no.13 seed and Germany’s Nina Mittelham, the no.16 seed, progressed to the third round as was to be anticipated.

However, in addition to Yang Xiaoxin, there was one mild surprise; like Polina Mikhailova from Russia, Yana Noskova, the no.18 seed, recorded a second round win against Britt Eerland of the Netherlands, the no.15 seed (11-7, 12-10, 11-13, 11-9, 11-6).

A place in round three for Polina Mikhailova (Photo: Thorsten Gohl)
Semi-finalists decided

The third round names known in the men’s singles and women’s singles event; in the mixed doubles the semi-finalists were decided. In the upper half of the draw life advanced as expected, the total opposite in the lower.

Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej and Barbora Balazova, the top seeds, beat Zhang Kai and Wu Yue of the United States, the no.6 seeds (11-5, 11-6, 11-4); similarly, according to status, Sharath Kamal Achanta and Manika Batra, the no.3 seeds, overcame the Netherlands combination of Rajko Gommers and Britt Eerland, the no.7 seeds (11-5, 11-1, 11-8).

Success for India, in the adjacent half of the draw it was the same but against the odds. Manav Vikash Thakkar and Archana Girish Kamath beat the host nation’s Eugene Wang and Zhang Mo, the no. 8 seeds (13-11, 11-6, 11-6). Likewise not seeded, China’s Zhao Zhaoyan and Liu Xi ended the hopes of Serbia’s Aleksandar Karakasevic and Izabela Lupulesku, the no.2 seeds (11-8, 11-7, 11-6).

Manav Vikash Thakkar and Archana Girish Kamath (left) recorded a quarter-final win against (right) Zhang Mo and Eugene Wang (Photo: Thorsten Gohl)
Penultimate day

The day concluded, on Saturday 7th December, the mixed doubles as well as the under 21 men’s singles and under 21 women’s singles champions will be crowned; the men’s doubles and women’s doubles finalists, in addition to the men’s singles and women’s singles finalists, will be known.

Challenge Series 2019 North America Sharath Kamal Achanta Emmanuel Lebesson

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Day 3 - 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Benemax-Virgo North American Open