by Simon Daish
Mima Ito’s path to the final proved to be relatively trouble free: negotiating her opening two-round fixtures against Luxembourg’s Ni Xia Lian (12-10, 11-7, 11-5, 11-9) and Ukraine’s Margaryta Pesotska (11-8, 11-8, 11-9, 11-5) without dropping a game, Ito then fought back from a 0-2 deficit to beat compatriot Hitomi Sato 4-2 (9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-8, 11-1, 11-2), before securing her spot in the final with a 4-1 win over German defender Han Ying (11-7, 11-9, 10-12, 11-7, 11-4).
As for Cheng I-Ching, the no.3 seed prevailed over Thailand’s Suthasini Sawettabut (11-7, 11-5, 11-6, 11-8), Germany’s Shan Xiaona (11-3, 11-8, 11-6, 11-5) and Hong Kong China’s Doo Hoi Kem (11-8, 12-10, 13-11, 11-4) to reach the last four where the Chinese Taipei hopeful earned an impressive 4-3 victory against Japanese second seed Kasumi Ishikawa (9-11, 11-4, 11-9, 10-12, 11-7, 10-12, 11-7).
Heading into the final itself Ito would have been bolstered by her head-to-head record with Cheng, having won five of their previous seven encounters. However, just like in their meeting at the 2019 World Tour Grand Finals in December, the two were set for another gruelling full distance affair!
Regardless of the sport it’s pretty common knowledge that a good start is important and Ito clearly had that mindset, claiming the opening game by a four point margin. But, a blistering display from Cheng in game two caught Ito off guard, before long we were all-square once again.
Cheng’s service game played a crucial role in much of the Chinese Taipei player’s success in the final, often setting her up for the third and fifth ball attack and at times Ito couldn’t keep up – an incredible statement when referring to one of the sport’s quickest! Two of the next three games went in Cheng’s favour and all of a sudden the pressure began to mount on Ito’s shoulders.
The task became even more daunting in game six: with the score at 2-7 in Cheng’s direction, only four more points were required for the Chinese Taipei competitor to land her first ITTF World Tour women’s singles title. But, Ito refused to lie down and accept defeat, claiming nine of the following 11 points to force a seventh and final game.
Leaving spectators on the edge of their seats in a truly dramatic battle, there was no more room for error for either finalist as the match entered the home straight. At the halfway point of the decider it was Cheng who held the slight advantage at 6-4, but she couldn’t convert as Ito held her nerve to claim victory.
“We have played each other lots of times in the past. We know each other’s game really well. It wasn’t easy to play her today in game six. It was very important when I changed the direction of play which made her confused and gave me the chance to come back into this match as the two games before that I just gave to her too easily. For the final game, I played my game stronger and I found my rhythm. I am very happy with my trophy here in Budapest.” Mima Ito
So, another trophy for Mima Ito to add to her collection – that’s now eight women’s singles titles on the ITTF World Tour! An impressive number and Ito’s success in Budapest could be just the confidence booster she needs in an important year for her with the 2020 Olympic Games scheduled to take place in her home country later in the year.