13 Dec 2019

Win the point they smiled, lose the point they smiled, win the crucial last point the smiles lit up the Zhengzhou Olympic Sports Centre; on the afternoon of Friday 13th December at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, the “happy couple” danced for joy.

At the semi-final stage of the women’s doubles event, Japan’s Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki, the reigning World junior champions saved a total of five points, before overcoming China’s Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu (3-11, 4-11, 11-3, 14-12, 14-12) the incumbent world champions, to book their place in the women’s doubles final.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Miyuu Kihara, 15 years old and Miyu Nagasaki, 17 years of age, are a delight to watch, sport is to be enjoyed, they enjoy ever second when bat in hand; they are breath of fresh air.

In Zhengzhou, they finished the year at the top of the ITTF World Tour standings, they finished the year in top spot on the World rankings; in the former Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu ended the year in third position, in the latter in second spot.

However, having won at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in April in Budapest, a tournament in which Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki were not selected for the Japanese team, surely Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu started as clear favourites?

Start suggested comfortable win

At the start of the contest that conclusion appeared to hold water; Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu won the first two games conceding a paltry seven points. They were the better pair when playing over the table, a variety of short delicately placed returns of service combined with sidespin efforts and the odd banana created a cocktail that forced errors.

Also, it was surely the biggest stage on which Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki had ever played; they made mistakes, seemingly not adjusted to the occasion. Accepted they had won just under one month ago on the ITTF World Tour in Austria, in September at the Asian Junior Championships in Ulaanbaator and less than two weeks previously at the NSDF World Junior Championships in Korat but the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals is prestigious. It has a special status, the very best strive every sinew to compete.

Change of fortunes

It seemed Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu were on course for a comprehensive win; matters changed in the third game. Were Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki more relaxed and adjusted, was there a slight loss in focus from Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu?

Trademark smiles, Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki secured the first four points; moreover they were somewhat unlucky not to make it five in a row. Sun Yingsha, when receiving from Miyu Nagasaki, attempted to play short with backspin, the ball clipped the top of the net and bounced back over with Miyuu Kihara unable to make contact.

The somewhat freak point did not signal a change in fortunes for the Chinese duo, the Japanese pair raced ahead to 10-3 and converted at the first attempt.

Time out calls

A blip, Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu would surely respond and find the form of the opening two games; in the fourth game they established a 6-3 lead; Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki called “time out”.

They levelled at 6-all, but the next two points went to Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu. At 8-7 the gap was down to one point. Li Sun, the Chinese coach sitting courtside, seeing danger signs called “time out”; the break did not have the effect desired. At 10-9 it was game point for Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki; the point was saved before, after saving two match points, the teenagers prevailed.

All smiles, Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki, as they had they had done throughout the contest, returned to the table for the vital fifth game, for Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu their faces were serious, tension was in the air. They carried the hopes of the nation, they were the only Chinese pair on women’s doubles duty; there was no back-up pair.

Point of the match

At the change of end, Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu held a one point lead and again at 6-5, the stage at which the point of the match, if not the point of the day was won by Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki. A long dazzling rally finished with a fast backhand executed from close to the table by Miyuu Kihara, down the line to win the point.

Absolutely crucial, Chinese players, without exception, excel in rallies, the Japanese duo more than matched their worthy opponents in the art. Furthermore, the backhand of Miyuu Kihara, the side of the racket on which she uses short pimples, was proving most effective when executed close to the table; it was a lethal weapon.

Nevertheless, the odds were with Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu; at 10-8 they held a further two match points; Miyuu Kihara and Miyuu Nagasaki won the next three points, the match point was saved. At 12-11, Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu held a fifth match point; it was the last point they were to win.

Three points in a row for Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki; sheer unbridled delight, a magic moment, one that will live long in the memory, a special occasion in the history of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.

The smiles from Miyu Nagasaki (left) and (right) Miyuu Kihara say it all (Photo: Rémy Gros)
Grand Finals 2019 Grand Finals Miyu Nagasaki Miyuu Kihara

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Day 4 - Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals