by Simon Daish
Meeting for the fourth time on the international circuit, Miyu Kato held the slight head-to-head advantage. She had won two of their previous three encounters; however, it was Hitomi Sato who was left smiling in their most recent match at the 2020 ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open.
Fast forward to the final in Muscat and spectators were treated to a crazy start to the all-Japanese affair as Kato edged the opening two games by the narrowest of margins. A total of 35 minutes played already but as it turned out there was still plenty of time left in this one!
One of the most consistent players in the sport, Sato isn’t known for letting her head drop and she wasn’t going to let a slow start change matters. The highest scoring game of the entire match, game three was packed with plenty of nervous tension on both sides of the table – an important game, Sato just about did enough to restore a glimmer of hope; before long the match was all-square at 2-2!
Sato had successfully mounted a comeback but with one hour and 15 minutes having passed the officials decided to put the Expedite System into effect as a means to speed up proceedings. For those of you who may not be well versed in the law, here’s how it works:
“The Expedite System comes into operation after 10 minutes’ play in a game or at any time when requested by both players or pairs but cannot be introduced in a game if at least 18 points have been scored.
Once in progress players serve alternately to the end of the game. If the receiving player makes a 13th correct return in a rally, the point is awarded to the receiver. Once introduced, The Expedite System remains in operation until the end of the match.”
Clearly disappointed to have dropped back-to-back games, Kato began to look frustrated with her opponent’s unbreakable wall, leading to a number of unforced errors. Sato sensed her opportunity and moves ahead for first time in the match, needing just one more game to seal the win.
Refusing to give up the fight Kato continued to force the top seed from side-to-side, looking for any advantage no matter how small but to no avail. Sato wrapped up the tie in a one hour and 38 minute marathon!
Hitomi Sato returns to title winning ways in the women’s singles category, claiming her first since the 2019 Thailand Open and her fifth ITTF Challenge singles gold overall. It is also the defender’s second success at the 2020 Oman Open having won women’s doubles gold alongside Honoka Hashimoto earlier in the day.