by Simon Daish
Chuang Chih-Yuan is somewhat of an enigma – in 2002 he achieved one of the standout success stories of his career by capturing the men’s singles title at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Stockholm, despite not having won a World Tour event prior and remains the only player to have achieved the unusual feat to this very day!
Keeping in line with his logic defying mantra Chuang is enjoying somewhat of an unanticipated resurgence in the early months of 2020, a fact of which Japanese table tennis fans will be well aware. Not seeded and thus required to first negotiate qualification rounds in Magdeburg, Chuang produced an almighty upset by eliminating Japanese teenage ace Tomokazu Harimoto at the first hurdle of the 2020 German Open!
A fantastic one-off showing you might argue but Chuang would go on to disprove that theory here in Doha, replicating the result with another 4-2 win over Harimoto at exactly the same stage of the men’s singles competition (9-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-9, 11-7). Worryingly for Harimoto that’s two defeats to the same player already this year – for Chuang a huge confidence boost!
Chuang’s reward for another outstanding display against Harimoto? Another meeting with Japanese opposition, no less with 2020 Hungarian Open runner up and Japanese national champion Yukiya Uda.
A tight start to the match but if the early momentum was with anyone it was Uda, using his lightning speed to great effect the young Japanese star chalked up a commanding 3-1 lead by the close of game four. Needing just one more game to seal the win Uda looked to be sailing comfortably through to the last eight.
However, Chuang is a man who has seen it all in his time as a professional player and knew he wasn’t out of the contest just yet. A narrow win in game five restored a glimmer of hope and that glimmer began to shine brighter still as the Chinese Taipei representative salvaged another game to send the match down to the wire!
Experience, confidence and momentum were all on Chuang’s side and there was no stopping him now! Uda kept up the fight until the last but was eventually beaten by a six point margin in the decider (9-11, 11-5, 9-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-5).
Upstaging Lin Yun-Ju
Through to the quarter-finals, Chuang’s next opponent in Doha is Englishman Liam Pitchford, a difficult hurdle to overcome but a player he prevailed over last August at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Bulgarian Open.
Last year Chinese Taipei’s 18-year-old sensation Lin Yun-Ju was the player making the headlines with his excellent performances against the world’s finest. Now it appears the supposed “old guard” Chuang is back to something close to his best and what excellent timing too with the Olympic Games scheduled for later this year – how does this bode for Chinese Taipei’s Tokyo 2020 ambitions?