by Dominique Plattner, ITTF High Performance Manager
Simon Gauzy and Xu Xin had met twice prior to their contest in the Hungarian capital city, on both occasions Xu Xin had prevailed. Notably on their most recent prior engagement, at the 2018 ITTF World Tour German Open, Simon Gauzy had won the opening two games before losing the next four.
Arguably, it was the “match of the tournament”; it had everything, variety, spectacular rallies, accurate placements and above all the mental aspect.
- Simon Gauzy beat Xu Xin 11-8, 6-11, 11-13, 11-6, 11-9, 11-9
- Match duration: 59 minutes 44 seconds
Both players used totally different serving strategies. Simon Gauzy chose the pendulum serve directed towards Xu Xin’s body. In most the cases, Xu Xin tried to flick the ball with a “banana”; therefore Simon Gauzy’s plan worked. He could play the ball early down the line deep into his opponent’s backhand.
Xu Xin served with his forehand from the forehand side with sidespin to Simon Gauzy’s backhand. He anticipated the returns towards his body or even forehand; when the Frenchman was in the active position, he tried to speed up play by attacking across the diagonal or playing a controlled stroke down the line.
Thus the ploy of Xu Xin was to open the table by playing deep with backspin into his opponent’s forehand; Simon Gauzy returned with a relatively slow topspin across the diagonal. Xu Xin was already stepping around to use one of his strongest weapons, the forehand counter topspin. On most occasions the result was he won the point. However, the Frenchman managed to win the game with an incredible backhand counter topspin from the forehand side of the table.
Second game and third games
Xu Xin started as if he was another player; the body language was more active, he covered the whole table with his forehand. Gauzy fought hard, he tried to vary more but could not find answers.
In the third game, Xu Xin’s serve placement stayed the same. Simon Gauzy used his backhand to return, he started to make contact earlier, immediately off the bounce. From the second game onwards, Xu Xin varied the lengths of his returns more consciously, especially when playing to his adversary’s forehand.
There were some half-long backspin returns, the potential second bounce very near the edge of the table; it was difficult for Simon Gauzy to read the length of the return. Xu Xin extended his lead to 5-1 but became passive. Simon Gauzy recovered to 5-3; Xu Xib changed his placement of serve to forehand, the Frenchman used high-quality “banana” flicks as a response. He found a good timing for his attacking play over the table. Nevertheless Xu Xin secured the game, to take a 2-1 lead.
Simon Gauzy dominated. He found his way back, he played with great variety, especially from the middle of the game, high quality top spin strokes. Previously, he had played too short and too high; from that point forward, Simon Gauzy varied the length of his play and executed his strokes with a lower trajectory. The effect was it put Xu Xin under pressure; he did not have time to adapt, he struggled to find his timing.
Furthermore, the Frenchman seized the chance to increase the speed of the game by timing the ball early, especially with the first attack after his service.
Xu Xin had to change his tactics. He relied on the half-long backspin returns to his adversary’s forehand, always prepared step around from the backhand side to counter attack with a powerful forehand and thus put Gauzy under pressure.
Trailing 3-4, Gauzy served and was ready to step around to execute a strong forehand, as he had performed on the previous point; somewhat belatedly Xu Xin called for a let service.
Pertinently, Simon Gauzy didn’t agree but was obviously disturbed by the decision to repeat the point. Quickly, Xu Xin established an 8-3 lead. At that moment Simon Gauzy started to play very creatively, he played powerfully at every opportunity. At 9-all the Frenchman excelled. Unpredictably, he executed a long serve for the first time, a crucial moment, it surprised Xu Xin. Trailing 9-10, he returned service short to his opponent’s forehand, the Frenchman was calm and clever, a slow spin flick. Xu Xin missed.
Now Gauzy was on fire and the crowd was with him!
Xu Xin hesitated at the start; Simon Gauzy was in the flow, positive body language and performing at peak level.
He established a lead, he was very clever, he slowed matters with precise placements. Xu Xin did everything to stay in the game.
At 3-2 and 8-all Xu Xin played a very powerful forehand topspin over the table but directly into the racket of the Frenchman. Gauzy anticipated perfectly to take a one point lead; then by flicking the return of service with control, medium speed as in the previous game, at 10-8 he held two match points.
Time and again Xu Xin has escaped, it was not to happen. he saved the first match point not the second. Simon Gauzy was in round four.
You played an incredible tournament, you beat DPR Korea’s Ham Yu Song in the round of 128, Korea Republic’s strong left hander Park Ganghyeon in the round of 64 after being 0-2 down. After accounting for Xu Xin you defeated Slovakian defender Wang Yang before losing to Sweden’s Mattias Falck who played the tournament of his life. How did you see your progression through the whole tournament and what did you think when you saw the draw before the start?
First of all, I want to explain the condition in which I entered the tournament. It was a tough period for me. The year before I was ranked no.8 in the world; then I got injured, couldn’t play for some months and didn’t find back to my usual physical state for a while. So it was tough for me to perform at international tournaments; that’s why my self-confidence wasn’t at its peak. As I saw the draw I knew that it would be very difficult, because to face North Korean players is never easy. They have no ranking, as they generally don’t participate in international tournaments. I played a strong first round match. First rounds are always tough. I needed time to enter into tournaments. In the second round I faced Park Ganghyeon from Korea. I was 0-2 and 7-9 down. He performed amazingly. I found a way mentally to come back to my game. The last game was incredibly good. The round of 32 had been my personal best so far. I was very happy to reach that stage.
I wanted to play against Xu Xin on a big stage and do what I could; in a small part in my mind I told myself “I can win”. It’s so difficult to beat a Chinese, especially at a World Championships. It was important to believe in my chances. I had a chance once before, I didn’t take it, although I felt that my game disturbed him. In the Hungexpo arena I felt at home, the atmosphere was absolutely insane. People love how Xu Xin performs but of course they do want a European to win in Europe.
From the start, you played in a very brave and active attitude. You used a great deal of variation with your returns and top spins; also you performed well-placed strokes. The longer the match lasted, the earlier you took the ball, especially after your serves. What was your main tactic when you began the match and what did you have to adapt during?
Before the match I knew that I would have to push Xu Xin to his limits, especially with my returns of service. He has an amazing open game, also far from the table. I spoke with my coaches. We agreed that I have to return short, use my “banana” flick, my “strawberry” return, try to play deep to his forehand and then to his backhand, because if you don’t force him to perform with his backhand, then normally you don’t have a chance to win the point.
After a while I didn’t feel like receiving short, because my first short returns were not as I wanted them to be. Afterwards I used my “banana” flick, tried to change the placement, speed and trajectories. I did it throughout the whole match and it worked out very well. My return is one of my strengths. I had to adapt with taking the ball as early as possible to avoid his counter topspin; when I had the chance to use my backhand, I went for a strong diagonal or well-placed down the line stroke.
What is your opinion and thoughts regarding the match-deciding situations?
I was down 3-8 in the fifth. Xu made one or two easy mistakes, which permitted me to come back in the game and win 11-9. I remember especially the situation at 8-7, when I just controlled the ball and played slowly to his backhand. Xu Xin didn’t know what to do; that point gave me a lot of self-confidence for the rest of the match. I knew if I could keep my mental state, the level of my game, my service game and fight into the long rallies, then I would be able to win.
What about your feelings? What did you feel in the match?
I felt that Xu’s coach was really nervous, talking a lot to Xu. I could see his backhand was getting worse during the match. I got a lot of confidence. I saw the spectators gathering at our table, my coaches and my family were there. The fact that my team, which had supported me through the tough time, was there, helped me a lot. When I performed this crazy block at 3-2 ahead in games and 8-8, I knew that I had a big chance to win. The feeling of beating Xu Xin at a World Championships is amazing.