Tournaments

21 Apr 2020

Ranked world no.157, on Sunday 21st April 2019 An Jaehyun set off on an inspired adventure, lasting an incredible nine matches, to eventually reach the semi-finals of the Liebherr 2019 ITTF World Table Tennis Championships, but how?

A quarter-finalist at the World Junior Championships in 2016 in Cape Town and the following year in Riva del Garda, the Korea Republic player was most certainly a young man to note but in reality one of many; worthy performances but he hadn’t uprooted trees.

In Budapest, he blossomed.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

In Riva del Garda he had explained his form in the boys’ singles event had been better than in the team event because of “jet lag”; in the Hungarian capital city he adjusted quickly to the time difference.

More significantly, he gave his opponents no time to react; true to the best Korean traditions, the footwork of An Jaehyun was executed at top speed but it was the speed at which he attacked, the early timing on the ball that proved the vital factor.

Adjusted to environment

To some extent, he benefitted from the fact that he was required to compete in the qualification stage. Two matches in the group then a preliminary round, he was totally accustomed to the playing conditions and to the environment; that fact was crystal clear in the opening round when he beat Hong Kong China’s Wong Chun Ting, the no.14 seed in four straight games, surrendering a mere 25 points.

The scintillating form continued as he ended the hopes of Europe’s most impressive junior name, Sweden’s Truls Moregard, before accounting for Austria’s more established Daniel Habesohn. On both occasions, he fought back after dropping the opening game, underlining his spirit, resilience and growing confidence.

Impressive, yes, but few expected further progress when, in the round of 16, he came up against Tomokazu Harimoto. A third consecutive six games victory for An Jaehyun left the Japanese teenager visibly in tears during his post-match interview. This was a most rude awakening and a reminder that the journey to the highest level is filled with pitfalls.

Emulated Lee Sangsu

Success meant a place in the quarter-finals against colleague Jang Woojin and therefore a guaranteed medal for Korea Republic, just as two years earlier in Düsseldorf. On that occasion, after overcoming Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic and compatriot Cho Seungmin, sensationally Lee Sangsu had accounted for China’s Zhang Jike, Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and Wong Chin Ting to reach the semi-finals where Fan Zhendong restored national pride by ending the journey.

In a similar manner to Lee Sangsu, An Jaehyun emerged successful at the quarter-final stage; he ended the hopes of Jang Woojin by the narrowest of margins, before in the penultimate round – his ninth match of the event – he was beaten in yet another marathon seven games encounter by eventual runner up, Sweden’s Mattias Falck.

Semi-final journey

Gaining in confidence, match by match, An Jaehyun made his presence more than felt in Budapest:

  • Group 57: beat Emir Garyagdyyev (Turkmenistan) 11-1, 11-3, 11-4, 11-5
  • Group 57: beat Alexander Valuch (Slovakia) 11-8, 10-12, 9-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-6
  • Preliminary round: beat Yaroslav Zhmudenko (Ukraine) 11-9, 12-10, 11-3, 11-6
  • Round of 128: beat Wong Chun Ting (Hong Kong) 11-3, 11-5, 11-8, 11-9
  • Round of 64: beat Truls Moregard (Sweden) 3-11, 11-2, 11-13, 11-5, 11-8, 11-8
  • Round of 32: beat Daniel Habesohn (Austria) 10-12, 11-6, 11-8, 12-14, 11-3, 11-4
  • Round of 16: beat Tomokazu Harimoto (Japan) 11-7, 3-11, 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-9
  • Quarter-final: beat Jang Woojin (Korea Republic) 12-10, 10-12, 7-11, 11-3, 11-5, 8-11, 12-10
  • Semi-final: lost to Mattias Falck (Sweden) 8-11, 11-7, 3-11, 11-4, 11-9, 2-11, 11-5

The efforts of Lee Sangsu two years earlier had been matched but there was a major difference; Lee Sangsu had started play as the no.17 seed; it was rather different for An Jaehyun.

World ranking

On the men’s world rankings list issued in early April 2019, An Jaehyun stood at no.157; of the 50 players from Korea Republic listed, he was no.10. It was a surprise he had even been selected for Budapest.

Notably Lim Jonghoon, who was the third highest from Korea Republic in the order of merit, was not present in the Hungarian capital city. Lee Sangsu, at no.6 was the highest ranked followed by Jang Woojin at no.10 and Lim Jonghoon at no.17.

The podium in Budapest – Mattias Falck, Ma Long, Liang Jingkun, An Jaehyun

 

Unquestionably, An Jaehyun repaid the faith shown; he had proved any doubters wrong and thus etched his name in the history books as being the lowest ranked player, since such records began, to gain a podium finish.

Moreover, Christmas and his birthday came early; he was born on Saturday 25th December 1999.

Features Tomokazu Harimoto Lee Sangsu Wong Chun Ting Jang Woojin Mattias Falck Truls Moregard Daniel Habesohn An Jaehyun
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