by Ian Marshall, Editor
The two champions commenced play in very different situations; Fan Zhendong was in a rich vein of form; Zhu Yuling was trying to find form.
Zhu Yuling, 24 years old, ended the old year departing proceedings in the first round of the women’s singles event at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Zhengzhou, beaten by colleague Wang Manyu in straight games. She started the New Year on a much brighter note!
1.00pm Zhu Yuling bt Chen Meng 11-9, 11-9, 11-7, 4-11, 8-11, 11-9
7.00pm Zhu Yuling bt Sun Yingsha 9-11, 11-8, 6-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-5
Conversely in Zhengzhou, Fan Zhendong had won the men’s singles title, in Shenzhen he continued his winning ways.
2.00pm Zhou Qihao bt Xu Xin 11-8, 11-9, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9
8.00pm Fan Zhendong bt Zhou Qihao 11-9, 11-9, 11-8, 3-11, 11-8
10.00pm Fan Zhendong bt Xu Xin 11-9, 9-11, 8-11, 18-16, 11-7, 11-5
Under the competition’s regulations, if a player won the first two matches on the schedule proceedings stopped. Thus as Zhu Yuling won the opening two encounters, there was no doubt as to the winner. However, in the men’s singles event, it was different as Zhou Qihao won his first match but not his second; thus the third match was required.
Victory for Zhu Yuling brought to an end an almost 18 month drought; her most recent women’s singles title on the ITTF World Tour being in July 2018 in Daejeon at the Shinan Korea Open.
“I think I played normal today, not that excellent but I won. Maybe Sun Yingsha was not in her best form.” Zhu Yuling
Notably against Sun Yingsha, Zhu Yuling trailed by two games to one before winning three in a row to secure the top prize.
“I knew playing against Sun Yingsha would be very difficult. I kept encouraging myself on court. I told myself that I did a good job to win one of the first two games; it would be better if I could win the next and the next. In the fourth game I just focused on the match.” Sun Yingsha
Notably, the coach sitting courtside advising Zhu Yuling was Qiu Yike, the player who at the Liebherr 2003 World Championships in Paris beat Germany’s Timo Boll in the third round, before experiencing a quarter-final defeat at the hands of colleague Kong Linghui. In the sixth game against Sun Yingsha, Qiu Yike called “time out”.
“I think it was the perfect timing for a “time out”, it allowed me to calm down. He actually did not mention about any technical stuff but told me to be determined.” Sun Yingsha
Considering that in 2019, the best for Zhu Yuling on the ITTF World Tour was a runner up women’s singles finish, added to the fact she was not selected in November for the Zen-Noh Team World Cup, the win in Shenzhen is a major confidence booster.
“Winning the champion is good but I still think I have much to improve. There’s still a long way to go; this is just a domestic tournament, more difficulties are ahead. The World Tour is just around the corner. I still have much to improve. I am in no rush to retire!” Zhu Yuling
Success for Fan Zhendong, the incredible run of success continuing, he justified the fact he merits top spot on the newly issued world rankings justified.
“First I want to thank Tecent and the Chinese Table Tennis Association for providing the opportunity to compete in such a tournament. Even though it’s an internal competition, the atmosphere where the event is televised, there are umpires and spectators, makes it a very different challenge. I am happy I survived. It has given me confidence; a really good start for 2020.” Fan Zhendong
Success for Fan Zhendong against Xu Xin and a repeat of the success gained at the end of last year. After losing to Xu Xin in June on the ITTF World Tour in Japan, one month later he prevailed at the T2 Diamond in Johor Bahru prior to again succeeding in Germany.
“Xu Xin performed very well when serving. I did not have very good tactics against him so I had to do well when I served. In game four at 16-all I won a super rally; that was important in the context of the whole match. There were not many matches per day in the whole tournament but each of them was intense.” Fan Zhendong
Maintaining such a level of form; unbeaten since winning in mid-October at the 2019 ITTF World Tour German Open pays great credit to the ability and fortitude of Fan Zhendong.
“The final day was a big challenge both physically and mentally. After training in Haikou and this tournament, I think I have improved a lot. No-one can say there’s nothing to improve; especially for those who have enjoyed enormous achievements. To me, now I just try to do well in every tournament and develop good habits which will help me to play my best in big events.” Fan Zhendong
In the men’s singles, Zhou Qihao finished in second place, Xu Xin had to settle for third spot.