by Ian Marshall, Editor
Shan Xiaona emerged one of two players to cause an opening round upset; safely through the qualification tournament, she beat China’s He Zhuojia, the no.15 seed, in five games (11-8, 11-7, 11-9, 5-11, 11-5).
Notably, the one other upset was caused by Qian Tianyi, also from China, she ended the hopes of Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem, the no.13 seed; she prevailed in straight games (11-8, 11-7, 12-10, 12-10).
They are generations apart. Qian Tianyi, 20 years old, is a left handed shake-hands grip player with the smooth reversed rubber on both sides of the racket, an attacking player like Shan Xiaona but very different. Shan Xiaona is a right handed pen-hold grip exponent, short pimpled rubber using one side of the racket only. It is style that is now only seen by players who were born in the early 1980s or before; Shan Xiaona is 37 years old.
Resigned to the annals of history but against He Zhuojia the style proved most effective. Staying close the table at all times, requiring a playing area one quarter the size provided, blocking on the backhand, then waiting for the opportunity to step around and play a quick-fire forehand, proved a winning formula.
Equally, Shan Xiaona was positive, from the backhand side, rather than be content with passive blocking play, a “punch” stroke executed at the peak of the bounce enabled her to seize the upper hand.
Furthermore, just as in the past, Spain’s He Zhiwen proved, you do not need smooth reversed rubber to make services most effective, it is more than possible using short pimpled rubber; it’s all a question of skill and technique. Shan Xiaona underlined those assets to the full, time and again she caused a passive return and then pounced with either a fast forehand drive or a rapid fire arrowed backhand.
He Zhuojia was never comfortable, a right handed shake-hands grip player she uses long pimpled rubber on the backhand; time and again she causes the modern day topspin player, who utilises reversed smooth rubber, headaches, the ball being returned at a different speed and upsetting the rhythm of the opponent. The attacking strokes of Shan Xiaona have minimal top spin, the backhand blocking style of He Zhuojia caused her opponent few problems.
Impressive from Shan Xiaona, it was just as in 2014 in Magdeburg when she proved herself most adroit against defensive play. She beat Korea Republic’s Suh Hyowon to secure the women’s singles title at the ITTF World Tour German Open; now another impressive performance is needed, in round two she faces Singapore’s Feng Tianwei, the no.7 seed.