19 Nov 2020

Exhilarating matches, played by the very best athletes across the realm of table tennis culminate at the end of the year.

Now less than a month prior to the 2020 ITTF Finals to be staged in Zhengzhou from Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd November, we take a look at six contests at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals that stand out.

by Kabir Nagpal

1997, Hong Kong: Vladi conquers the ‘time out’

It was the first ever tournament to include the “time out” feature.

Vladimir Samsonov faced against the legendary Wang Liqin for the men’s singles gold and managed to take a two game lead. Wang returned with a scintillating win in the third game, Samsonov needed a way to stem the momentum of the Chinese. However, as he claimed in a post-match interview, he was unsure about taking a time-out! Eventually, it all worked out for the Belarussian, as he secured a 3-1 (21-16, 21-14, 14-21, 21-17) win.

1999, Kobe: A fiery Chinese domestic

The ferocity of shots in a match between Zhang Yining and Wang Nan were consistent throughout the two decades of their rivalry. The situation was no different in Kobe as the two went head-to-head for women’s singles gold.

As the Japanese crowd watched in awe of the two Chinese women, Zhang and Wang exchanged the first four games with equal zest.  In the decider, it was Zhang who unleashed a barrage of super shots to take an unassailable lead and obtained her place on top of the podium (21-10, 19-21, 26-24, 9-21, 21-11).

Zhang Yining at the 1999 Grand Finals.
2002, Stockholm: A thriller in Sweden

Over the years, reaching the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals meant the athlete was largely successful over the past year at the World Tour events. In 2002, Chuang Chih-Yuan set the record slightly askew.

Having never won an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title, the Chinese Taipei athlete beat Kalinikos Kreanga in the men’s singles final (11-9, 11-7, 9-11, 10-12, 11-1, 7-11, 11-6). The Stockholm was not disappointed in the effort from Kreanga, as he truly pushed his Asian opponent to the limit. To this date, Chuang Chih-Yuan remains the only player ever to win at the Grand Finals before winning on the ITTF World Tour.

Chuang Chih-Yuan, moving towards the win.
2004, Beijing: Yue-th for the gold

Youthful exuberance was on display in Beijing, as 16-year-old Guo Yue opposed 23-year-old Niu Jianfeng in the women’s singles final, a day after losing the women’s doubles final alongside Niu Jianfeng against Chinese compatriots Wang Nan and Zhang Yining.

Taking a three game lead, the teenager was in complete control of the final from the start. Despite that, Niu returned with two games of her own, before Guo won the sixth game to become, at the time, the youngest ever winner at the World Tour Grand Finals (11-8, 12-10, 11-3, 12-14, 14-18, 11-8).

The 2004 women’s singles final – Guo Yue (left) v (right) Niu Jianfeng.
2015, Lisbon: First time for Ding

Ding Ning was fifth time lucky as she ended her wait for the women’s singles gold at the World Tour Grand Finals after overcoming compatriot Chen Meng in Lisbon, 2015.

Having lost four finals before – 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014 – the Queen of Hearts left nothing to chance this time, taking the match by the scruff of the neck, attacking  Chen’s forehand. The younger Chinese Chen tried her best to gain a foothold in the games but World Champion Ding put her foot down and won 4-2 (13-11, 10-12, 11-7, 11-2, 9-11, 11-7).

2017, Incheon: The youngest champion ever

Unfazed, undaunted and unimaginable were the three words to describe the performance of Tomokazu Harimoto at the 2018 World Tour Grand Finals, as the teenager from Japan defied the odds to become the youngest ever winner of the competition at 15 years and 172 days.

Playing against China’s Lin Gaoyuan who was seeded sixth, Harimoto recorded a 4-1 (11-4, 13-15, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9) win. From the opening game in the final, Harimoto never gave Lin an opportunity to unleash his electric quick-fire forehand. Instead, directing his heavy top spin strokes towards the body of his opponent proved to be a winning formula. Level at three-all, Lin accelerated the pace of the game but could not change the flow, with his errors from the backhand giving enough room for Harimoto to exploit and create history.

Features Bank of Communications 2020 ITTF Finals Ding Ning Tomokazu Harimoto Vladimir Samsonov zhang yining Guo Yue

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