14 Dec 2019

One step short, runners up spot was the end result for Japan’s Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito on Saturday 14th December in the mixed doubles final in Zhengzhou at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.

The no.4 seeds, after holding a two games to nil lead, they experienced defeat by the very narrowest of margins when facing China’s Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen, the no.3 seeds (9-11, 6-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-9).

by Ian Marshall, Editor

However, from that performance, despite defeat, the duo from the Land of the Rising Sun can take great heart.

A total of seven appearances on this year’s ITTF World Tour but one fact that number does not reveal is that all those excursions were in the past six months. They did not become a partnership until the Shinan Korea Open in early July.

Most successful pair

Prior to July, the most successful Japanese pairing by a mile was that of Maharu Yoshimura and Kasumi Ishikawa; at the World Championships they had been the runners up in 2015 in Suzhou and this year in April in Budapest, having in 2017 emerged the winners in Düsseldorf.

However, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was clearly in mind and pairs need to be selected from those who would compete in the team events. Would Maharu Yoshimura gain a men’s team place? No doubt Tomokazu Harimoto, Jun Mizutani and Koki Niwa was the favourite option?

In Qatar, Mima Ito partnered Masataka Morizono, they reached the final losing to Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen; in China and on home soil in Sapporo, Mima Ito joined forces with Koki Niwa. On both occasions, they experienced defeat at the hands of Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching.

Third partner

Two left handers tried as partners for Mima Ito; in Busan, enter a third, Jun Mizutani; since that date, with Tokyo in mind, it has been the combination.

Notably in Korea they reached the semi-final, they were runners up in Australia, the Czech Republic and Sweden; they won in Bulgaria before as the year closed being quarter-finalists in Germany and Austria.

Significantly, in two of those tournaments they departed proceedings when facing Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen but note the results, note the improvement. In Busan, on their first outing as a pair, they lost in four games (8-11, 11-4, 13-11, 11-8), in Stockholm, they suffered in the final by the narrowest of margins (8-11, 11-8, 13-11, 3-11, 11-9).

Once again in Zhengzhou it was just the same, the difference is minimal against a pair rated by many the ideal combination – left hand pen-hold and right hand shake-hands grip – who have now been partners on the international scene twice as long as Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito. In early November 2018 they won on the ITTF World Tour in Austria.

Added dimension

Currently we eulogise about the great skill of Lin Yun-Ju, he excels when playing over the table; in the early years of this century we did the same with respect to another talented teenager, a bright young Jun Mizutani, another member of the golden hand lefties club.

The skill extolled by Jun Mizutani was evident in the final but there is an added dimension to the Japanese selection.

Just as the previous day in the women’s doubles semi-final, when partnering Miyu Nagasaki, the bullet like attacking backhand strokes from Miyuu Kihara, using short pimpled rubber, proved most effective against China’s Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu; it was exactly the same from Mima Ito in the mixed doubles final. Memories of the Chinese legend, Deng Yaping, so adroit in the art, came flooding back.

Receiving from the power of Xu Xin, Mima Ito excelled. Two errant forehands by Xu Xin from 9-all had cost the champions elect dear in the opening game; in the second Xu Xin played towards Mima Ito. Surely the favoured option for the Chinese pair? The Japanese duo sped into a 9-3 and never relinquished the advantage!

Wise adviser

Advice from Ma Lin, the coach sitting courtside, was needed and could Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen have had a better adviser? Xu Xin is rated by many the greatest doubles player of the current era but he has some way to go to match Ma Lin. He won men’s doubles Olympic Games and World Championships gold; secured a record 39 such ITTF World Tour titles and three times won at the Grand Finals.

Clearly the advice was heeded, Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen won the first eight points of the third game, the game was won with ease but the fourth was very different. After establishing an 8-5 lead, the advantage for the Chinese duo was down to one point at 9-8; Ma Lin called “time out”, once again his words worked wonders, no further points were lost, a fifth game beckoned.

The decider

At the change of ends in the decider, Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen held a one point lead; they extended the lead to 7-5 before Xu Xin brought the house down with a forehand that left Mima Ito gasping for air. It gained a standing ovation from Ma Lin and his illustrious colleagues, Liu Guoliang, Qin Zhijian and a certain Zhang Jike sitting in the tiered seating.

Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito called “time out”; they levelled at 8-all but they were never able to secure the lead. At 10-8 they saved one match point but could not save another; once again by the narrowest of decisions, Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen prevailed.

Following the theory of a legend

Defeat but Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito take the positives!

Prior to the final of the men’s event at the 2000 World Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur between Sweden and China, Jan-Ove Waldner had never beaten Liu Guoliang. However, he suggested to coach Ulf Carlsson that he should play first because it was likely he would face Liu Guoliang. He argued that because more often than not, he had won a game when losing to Liu Guoliang, logic suggested he could therefore beat his nemesis.

He did and Sweden sensationally won. Always Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito have secured at least one game, more often two, when losing to Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen. Next time! Think Waldner!

Grand Finals 2019 Grand Finals xu xin Mima Ito liu shiwen Jun Mizutani

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