30 Aug 2021

The Metropolitan Gymnasium may be bereft of spectators, but the tension is palpable; it was very much the situation on the morning sixth day of action, Monday 30th August, at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Four further gold medallists were anointed, Ukraine’s Maryna Lytovchenko, China’s Zhao Shuai, Kelly van Zon of the Netherlands and Korea Republic's Joo Yiungdae.

by Ian Marshall

Proceedings commenced with a most impressive performance.

European Championships defeat avenged

Maryna Lytovchenko was the player in form; she beat Russia’s Maliak Alieva in straight games (11-6, 11-4, 11-3). The win was surprisingly comfortable considering the fact that at the 2019 European Championships in Helsingborg, at the semi-final stage of the same event, Maryna Lytovchenko had lost to Maliak Alieva in four games (10-12, 11-5, 11-7, 11-8).

Left handed, Maryna Lytovchenko was particularly strong when playing from the backhand, especially when directing the play wide to the forehand of her right handed adversary. Equally, her ability to execute a service long and fast wide to the forehand of Maliak Alieva proved successful time and again.

However, did Maryna have a secret weapon? She wore table tennis earrings.

“It’s a very important win for me, some time ago I lost to her at the European Championships; it was all about maintaining concentration over a long period of time and keeping calm. The earrings were a birthday present from a friend who knows how important table tennis is for me.” Maryna Lytovchenko

Thus, for Maryna Lytovchenko it was two steps higher than five years ago in Rio de Janeiro. In the Brazilian city, she had experienced a semi-final defeat at the hands of Croatia’s Sandra Paovic (11-6, 11-8, 10-12, 11-9), the champion elect.

Maryna Lytovchenko resolute (Photo: Rémy Gros)


In the bronze medal contest, she had overcome colleague Antonina Khodzynskaya (11-9, 6-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7).

Different fortunes for Ukraine

Success for Ukraine, alas, in the immediately ensuing contest it was defeat; Viktor Didukh was beaten by China’s Zhao Shuai (17-15, 11-7, 6-11, 12-10), the opening game critical.

Equally vital was the forehand of Zhao Shuai; in backhand exchanges, Viktor Didukh was more secure, but when Zhao Shuai could execute his favourite stroke, the Ukrainian was always under pressure.

“I got a bit too excited and carried away in the third game, because I knew victory was just a small step away. I wanted the gold medal too badly, and I just lost it psychologically. At that point, he started to fight harder and that messed up my rhythm too. After that, I just told myself to start from zero again and focus on winning one point at a time.

Viktor is a great player. It’s my honour to compete against him. We might be rivals but we’re friends off court too. He’s someone who can constantly push me to be better. So, knowing that we’d meet in final, I was mentally prepared for a possible defeat. I’d have been fine if I had lost, but of course, I had to fight hard and win the match.” Zhao Shuai

Gold for Zhao Shuai and gold for the third time, previously he won in both London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).

Zhao Shuai, totally focused (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Disappointment for Viktor Didukh for whom the mind goes back to the time prior to cancer causing the amputation of his left leg. He played on the ITTF World Tour in 2008 and 2009; notably at the 2010 European Championships, he beat Kristian Karlsson, nowadays an established member of the Swedish national team.

Fighting spirit

Title retained, in the ensuing contest, it was the same outcome but in a more dramatic manner; Kelly van Zon of the Netherlands recovered from a two games to one deficit to beat Russia’s Victoriia Safonova (11-8, 3-4, 4-11, 11-5, 11-8).

Furthermore, at the change of ends in the decisive fifth game, also she had to fight back; she trailed by one point.

She made mistakes but at the end of the day it was her positive approach, coupled with a never-say-die fighting spirit that won the day; Victoriia Safonova, a player with a good feeling for the ball and not a hint of emotion, was somewhat passive in her approach.

“It’s a great feeling to win, she was leading two-one; I said to myself “come on Kelly, come on”. It was just keep fighting and don’t be afraid; keeping fighting I think is one of my biggest strengths. In the fifth game at the “time out”, with my coach we talked about my services, be aware she was likely to play her first attack to my backhand and keep the ball on the table.

I’m really grateful to my family and friends; also, to the Japanese people; they are so kind. Here I was under pressure to win. Now I am so happy.” Kelly van Zon

It is the third time in succession that Kelly van Zon has emerged the gold medallist, she won in both London (2012) and in Rio de Janeiro (2016); earlier in Beijing she had been the bronze medallist when a class 6-8 event was staged.

A fighting spirit, key to the success enjoyed by Kelly van Zon (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Meanwhile, for Victoriia Safonova, it was one step higher than in Rio de Janeiro; on that occasion she had beaten Turkey’s Kubra Ocsoy (11-5, 11-3, 5-11, 11-5) to claim bronze. Earlier at the semi-final stage in an even closer contest than today, she had been beaten by a certain Kelly van Zon (10-12, 13-15, 11-9, 11-6, 13-11).

Scoop the tactic

Success for the Netherlands, by definition in the contest that concluded the morning session of play, it was success for Korea Republic; Joo Youngdae, now 48 years old beat his younger 25 year old compatriot, Kim Hyeonuk in four games (11-8, 13-11, 2-11, 12-10).

A match in which the “scoop” stroke was very much in evidence, the player hitting the ball high in the air, aiming to  land it near the net at the opponent’s side of the table was very much in evidence. Joo Youngdae proved the slightly more effective.

“I was nervous because I believed I could win this match; finishing in first place is a dream. Everything went really well; certainly, it was a tough match.” Joo Youngdae

Very much it was success at last for Joo Youngdae, five years ago he had been the runner up in Rio de Janeiro, beaten in the final by Great Britain’s Rob Davies (11-2, 4-11, 11-9, 11-5); owing to a shoulder injury Rob Davies was not present in Tokyo.

Silver for Kim Hyeonuk at the first attempt (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Rather differently for Kim Hyeonuk, crowned World champion in 2018 in Lasko, it was his Paralympic Games debut.

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