by Massimo Costantini, ITTF High Performance Elite Coach
However, as with the tradition of the tournament, the top seeds fell short, second on the list, Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu emerged the winners.
Road to Final: Hina Hayata and Mima Ito
- Round One: beat Klara Cakol / Ivana Tubikanec (Croatia) 11-6, 11-6, 11-9, 11-5
- Round Two: beat Maria Xiao / Zhang Mo (Spain / Canada) 11-4, 10-12, 11-7, 11-9, 11-4
- Round Three: beat Chen Szu-Yu / Cheng I-Ching (Chinese Taipei) 11-8, 11-7, 11-2, 11-8
- Quarter-Final: beat Cha Hyo Sim / Kim Nam Hae (DPR Korea) 11-6, 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9
- Semi-Final: beat Honoka Hashimoto / Hitomi Sato (Japan) 11-9, 10-12, 14-16, 11-5, 11-5, 11-7
Road to Final: Sung Yingsha and Wang Manyu
- Round One: beat Karin Adamkova / Aneta Kucerova (Czech Republic) 11-4, 11-5, 11-6, 11-4
- Round Two: beat Farah Abdel-Aziz / Reem El-Eraky (Egypt) 11-4, 13-11, 11-5, 11-6
- Round Three: beat Dora Madarasz / Szandra Pergel (Hungary) 11-7, 11-8, 8-11, 12-10, 11-8
- Quarter-Final: beat Kim Jin Hyang / Kim Song I (DPR Korea) 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 12-10, 2-11, 11-6
- Semi-Final: beat Chen Meng / Zhu Yuling (China) 11-3, 11-9, 9-11, 6-11, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5
Final: Sung Yingsha / Wang Manyu beat Hina Hayata and Mima Ito (8-11, 3-11, 11-8, 11-3, 12-10, 11-8
The contest was very balanced, not only in the scores but in the play itself; we should not pay too great attention to the actual result. At this point, the pairs competing are the strongest of all.
From a tactical point of view the Japanese had a slight advantage due to the fact that they had the forehand always ready, Hina Hayata left handed, Mima Ito right handed. The situation was different for the Chinese, both were right handed.
For Hina Hayata and Mima Ito, the coach sitting courtside was Mika Baba; for Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu it was Xiao Zhan, the former advisor of Zhang Jike.
Dominated serve and receive
At the start of proceedings, in the opening game, Hayata and Ito dominated the serve and receive aspect.
Facing Sun, Hayata exploited the angles; Ito finished the point with ultra-fast powerful strokes. They played with imagination and intuition, they knew they had to move their opponents, the two friends understood each other perfectly, even though they experienced a gentle at coming together at 6-5 in favour of their opponents.
Sun and Wang for their part were aware that they must be very effective with their backhands. Also they knew their opponents would try to prevent them using their forehands. The Chinese duo made a slow start, they did not find good mechanisms of movement.
An opening game success for the Japanese duo, in the second they doubled their advantage. The Chinese seemed disoriented. They didn’t have the usual lucidity that distinguishes them, they lacked control of the situation. Maybe they were still in the study phase; their body language did not give Xiao Zhan confidence in their efforts.
Playing fast without respite the Japanese duo established a 6-1 lead; a nightmare was looming for the Chinese. Every rally was different, it was like sailing without a compass; the direction of the wind constantly changing. Sun and Wang had to think less about their opponents’ easy mistakes, more about a way to impose their game in the best possible manner.
The game lasted barely six minutes; in table tennis that is like the blink of an eye. The average number of strokes per rally was 4.85; just over one per player.
Two games to nil in arrears, the Chinese duo responded; they gained success in the game that is often considered pivotal in the overall result. A win for the Japanese and they would have had a firm grip on the trophy. Conversely, the success filled Sun and Wang with oxygen.
Perhaps the Japanese had excessive confidence or they didn’t expect such a clear reaction from the Chinese; all these things can happen. Something doesn’t make the mind and arms co-ordinate; maybe they hoped their opponents in some way would aid their victory. They are facts a table tennis player must eliminate; that also happens.
Three vital points lost by the Japanese, can be summarised as follows: two unnecessary push returns and a serve by Ito at 7-8, allowed Wang to attack with a fast topspin to Hayata’s body. Even though turning her body, she could not return with a strong attacking stroke. Errors, at top level, manage the tactics less than 100 per cent correct and the match slips away.
At high level, if something goes wrong there is no way to recover, the opponent punishes you. At a low level, even if something goes wrong there is always a way to recover and not be punished.
Aware of this fact, Xiao Zhan realised Sun and Wang had relaxed, they lost the next two points having led 8-5. He called “time out”. It was a matter of survival; the break worked, his charges moved to 9-7.
Alas for Japan, Ito’s negative trend didn’t end with that weak serve, in the next rally she missed an easy smash; sitting in the stands we all wondered how that was possible.
In my opinion, it was a missed opportunity for the Japanese who could have brought home the result and led 3-0. The cunning of the Chinese showed itself; they were patient, they played with control, they counted on the risk effect of their opponent’s play.
Success for the Chinese pair, now they faced the rest of the match with more confidence; for their opponents from the Land of Rising Sun a progressive tactical earthquake had begun.
First five points decisive
The fourth game beckoned; the Chinese were grafting the reasoned hydrogen photonic super engine; the first five points dictated the outcome. The Japanese duo found themselves without ideas. They followed the same pattern of play as in the previous game but without bite. There was a sense of discouragement.
Proceedings came to a rapid conclusion; level at two games each; the points the same, 33 apiece. Parity, it was as though the fifth game was the start of the match; a five games contest. Moreover by the minimal two point margin it was success for Sun and Wang.
Back to square one, Wang Manyu played towards Hayata, Sun to Ito. Wang Manyu served first. The game picked up the pace we had awaited, speed and powerful strokes with mandatory backhand flicks and brutal acceleration from both pairs. It was almost as if you pushed the ball, however long, you were bound to lose the point. The level of play rose as did the stakes. The bright attitude of the Japanese changed physiognomy into nervous tension; the micro-muscles on the face didn’t even present a shy smile.
Throughout the game, the serves were mostly a combination of sidespin and topspin, occasionally backspin. All were perfectly comfortable facing a backhand flick from each the opponent. There was outstanding play from Ito who invented a deviation block when 2-3 in arrears; a stroke for the table tennis book, a masterpiece of refined technique.
Fortune plays part
A pivotal moment, the Japanese duo took a 5-3 lead; the advantage could have been three points, a return from Wang Manyu clipped the edge of the table. She promptly raised her hand in apology; in some eyes the gesture is seen as one of duty, others believe it is hypocrisy.
The fortuitous point ignited the Chinese. They played the next point in an exemplary manner, forehand and backhanded attacks; above all, generating perfect movement of the legs. Level at 5-all, the Japanese duo then held a two point lead at 9-7.
A sensational point in favour of China. In my opinion once again an unnecessary push by Hayata allowed Sun to attack from the backhand; a slow block followed from Ito. It gave Wang the chance to exert her strong backhand. Hayata counter attacked in typical style, somewhat unbalanced, an art in which she excels. Sun Yingsha failed to reply with power, allowing Ito to play her best response. It was a kind of backhand smash that died in the white ribbon of the net, the ball rising slowly in the middle of their opponent’s court.
Employing forward movement, Wang ended the rally with a backhand, Hayata trying a desperate recovery fell backwards. Xiao Zhan nodded, pleased with his players.
At 9-all Sun executed a backhand flick to return service, the ball hit the top of the net and flew out.
Momentary joy for the Japanese but the umpire had called “let” on the service. Hayata and Ito disagreed with the decision. They asked for verification from the huge monitor; television like video action replay in table tennis. However, at present there is no such recourse, the score remained at parity. The Japanese were destabilized: Mika Baba advised a good drink of water.
My personal opinion? I wouldn’t have requested the “time-out”, I wouldn’t have increased that feeling of frustration, which inevitably everyone experiences when you feel the point should have been awarded to you.
Significantly, we are talking about the women’s doubles World Championships final. Your brain is boiling, you don’t accept it, no-one does. You don’t have clarity of the situation. Instead of becoming calm, on the contrary it may boost the sense of having suffered fraud.
The four players returned after a two minutes and 30 seconds break, in the table tennis that is an eternity. Hayata executes the same service, same backhand flick from Sun. Ito blocks well but Wang is quick to move to the left and closes the point with an amazing inside out forehand. Exuding extreme skill Ito levels play at 10-all. In the overall match it is parity at 43 points each.
Now, who experienced the worst of that let, judging by the events, it was undoubtedly Hina Hayata. Inexplicably, she missed the next two returns, fifth game to China.
Thus from a possible one game lead, the Japanese duo found themselves one game in arrears. Obviously, it would not be easy to restore the systems, it was like water had caused a short circuit; the system was in disarray.
Alas for the Japanese, they started the sixth game badly, Hayata and Ito played scary backhands.
Unfortunately for the Japanese they weren’t well supported by luck; a feint edge, the Chinese had a three point advantage, it could easily have been just one. Soon, Sun and Wang had a four point advantage.
The Japanese showed a more technical than tactical and emotional reaction, they played well but they didn’t show the desire to win, they didn’t verbally encourage each other. They didn’t clench their fists, the placement of the ball was not effective; they didn’t exact the typical advantage of the right handed and left handed combination against two right handers. They mostly played to the center and the angles.
Notably, they didn’t create opportunities to impose their game by making their opponents move, success for China but was the let at 9-all in the fifth game, the deciding factor?
Xiao Zhan was happy, once again sending the signals to the top management of China that he is a winning coach. He was assigned a task, he performed to the best of his ability.
End of the adventure for all, exhausted, happy, fulfilled, motivated for the future, a rosy future; unfortunately an invisible enemy has perpetrated. It has locked us indoors, locked the gyms, placed the table tennis world in quarantine.
However, this enemy does not know of what we are capable. No matter how long you keep us on the bench, we’ll come back and we’ll achieve greater heights.
Stay positive, look forward; look forward to Busan!