China’s world No2 Xu Xin denied compatriot Ma Long a fourth singles title at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals with an emphatic display of aggressive table tennis at Al Nasr Leisureland yesterday, and added another trophy to the one he won in 2012.
After beating talented 16-year-old Fan Zhendong 4-1 in the semi-finals earlier in the day, Xu Xin set up a final with world No1 Ma Long, who had eased past Korea’s Kim Minseok 4-0.
Despite having the better start, Xu Xin kept getting pegged back by Ma Long, who forced a decisive seventh game only for the world No2 to regain his composure and secure a 4-3 (11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 8-11, 11-5, 4-11, 11-5) victory.
“Leading up to the final I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to but my fans have never stopped believing in me and supporting me, and that helped,” said 24-year-old Xu Xin after the win.
“Ma Long is one of the hardest team-mates to beat and today I was very relaxed. I performed really well, I believed in myself and I’m pretty happy how I played in the final.”
In front of a close to 1,000-strong crowd of fans, Xu Xin had a fierce start before the world No1 snuck away with a tight second game to draw level.
After Xu Xin edged ahead in the third, and led 6-4 in the fourth, Ma Long took a strategic timeout and came back strong to steal the fourth to make it 2-2.
Xu Xin led again for 3-2 but Ma Long stormed back with the sixth. But it wasn’t enough as the world No2 opened up a 10-3 lead in the final game.
With seven match points in Xu Xin’s hands, the pair surprised the crowd with a phenomenal point where Ma Long kept defending with high balls while simultaneously rotating around the table until both players switched sides and the point ended with a smash from Ma Long.
Xu Xin sealed the win two points later much to the delight of the roaring fans.
“Table tennis is an individual and very competitive sport and we wanted to show the fun part of the game. That point was for the fans,” explained Ma Long after his defeat.
“I’m happy with the way I played, nobody can be a champion every single time. I’m now looking forward to 2014 and the new challenges it will bring.”
On his part, Xu Xin says that besides the support of the Dubai crowd, he believed he mentally handled the match better than his opponent.
“In the matches against Ma Long, it always narrows down to who can be more relaxed and who is more confident and that’s what made the difference today,” said Xu Xin.
Looking ahead to 2014, the winner added: “This year I want to be focused on the World Team Championships and the Asian Games.
I want to keep growing and show the world what I’m about.” In doubles, China’s Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia breezed past Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching and Huang Yi-Hua 4-0 to take the title.
World No1 Liu Shiwen captured her third successive ITTF World Tour Grand Finals title, taking out her compatriot and world No2 Ding Ning 4-2 at Al Nasr Leisureland.
Playing for top honours in the Grand Finals for a fourth time, Ding was hoping to capture her first title but Liu once again proved too strong for the former world champion.Liu edged ahead in a tight first game, but a couple of mistakes from Ding gave her the advantage.
Ding, the only player to win the singles event at the World Junior Championships (2005) and progress to become the world champion at the senior level (2011), retaliated in the second game, relying on a deft serve to level the match at 1-1.
The match remained close as Ding won the fifth game to trail 2-3, but Liu held her nerve when it mattered most and took the title on a poor serve from Ding in the sixth game.
“Our level is pretty much the same but I’m lucky because I dealt with the key points better,” said Liu, who is also a three-time world champion. “I knew I had to start that sixth game with a positive attitude and the good start I had helped raise my confidence.”
Meanwhile, Ding says she is yet to find a solution to end Liu’s supremacy in the Grand Finals: “I’m a bit disappointed because I managed to reach 9-9 twice but ended up losing those sets on my own serve.
“Losing the first and third sets took down my confidence and that’s why I believe I lost.
“This is the fourth time I’ve lost in the final of this competition. I guess I have to settle for the runnerup position for now. I have to work harder to try and win this title.”
Earlier in the day, the men’s singles quarter-finals had an explosive start with world No1 Ma Long overcoming an inspired assault from world No3 Zhang Jike to advance to today’s semi-finals.
Zhang, a former world and Olympic champion, was trying to win his first-ever Grand Finals and when he took a 2-0 lead over Ma, it looked like the 25-year-old would finally edge closer to the elusive crown.
But Ma won three games on the trot and an improved strategy saw him seal the win 8-11, 3-11, 12-10, 11- 8, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5 and set-up a semifinal against Korea’s Kim Minseok.
“It’s been a little time since I have played in an international match, so at the start I was a little nervous,” said Ma. “But then I started playing longer instead of shorter and the new tactics worked.”
Kim, the Under-21 Grand Finals champion in 2011, also endured a tough battle to reach the last-four. The Korean took a 3-0 lead only for his Japanese opponent Masato Shiono to level at 3-3. But Kim halted his opponent’s comeback to triumph 11-6 in the seventh game.
France’s Abdel-Kader Salifou, the only non-Asian in the quarter-final line-up, lost to China’s world No2 Xu Xin 0-4, but was happy to reach the last eight on his Grand Finals singles debut.
The last quarter-final of the day was won by 16-year-old Chinese Fan Zhendong, who triumphed 4-1 against his 30-year-old countryman Wang Hao – a three-time Grand Finals champion.
“This match was very important for me. I’m young but I’m improving fast and I’m happy to beat someone as experienced as Hao,” said Fan.
The world’s top two players, Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning, had to fight hard to set up a third consecutive final in the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, while France’s Simon Gauzy and Singapore’s Lin Ye were crowned Under-21 champions at Al Nasr Leisureland on Friday.
Liu dropped her first-ever sets to Belarusian counterpuncher Viktoria Pavlovich en route to a 4-2 semifinal victory while Ding needed a decisive set to take out her compatriot and reigning Olympic champion Li Xiaoxia 4-3.
In a battle between offence and defence, Liu, the two-time defending champion, survived a frustrating duel with Pavlovich, who sliced back every ball and relied heavily on defence to force her opponent into committing errors.
The Belarusian took a surprising lead, taking the first set 11-8, before Liu struck back, winning three straight sets for a 3-1 lead. But Pavlovich continued with her strategy and it paid off once again as a net error from Liu gave the fifth set to her opponent.
Liu had to save two set points in the sixth game before booking her place in the final – 8-11, 11-3, 11-4, 11-9, 8-11, 12-10.
“I know Viktoria very well and she’s a very defensive player. This time was the best she’s ever played me, which surprised me but I’m happy with the result,” Liu told Sport360° after the match.
Looking ahead to the final, she added: “Ding and I play at a very close level and the last time we played she beat me, so tomorrow we’ll see who can perform better on the day.”
The earlier semi-final – a repeat of the Olympics final in London 2012 – saw Ding take a comfortable 2-0 lead before Xiaoxia clawed her way back into the match levelling at 3-3.
But the world No2 stormed back taking the seventh set 11-3 to advance to today’s final.
“I’m very happy to be in the final of this tournament for the fourth time, it’s a very good chance to finally win this title,” said Ding.
The Under-21 Boys’ Singles final was an all-European affair as Gauzy defeated Germany’s Patrick Franziska, who had beaten the Frenchman the day before in the group stages.
Gauzy avenged his defeat with a hard-fourth 4-2 win to take home the title. “Today was fantastic,” said Gauzy. “I lost to him five times in a row. It’s very hard to beat him, he’s one of the top-14 in the world, he’s kind of the new hope for European table tennis.”
On keeping Asia out of the final, Gauzy said: “I think this is a very good sign because in France we have some good young players, in Europe we have Patrick, and also Liam Pitchford from England.”
The Under-21 Girls’ Singles final saw Singapore’s Lin Ye halt an attempted comeback from Hong Kong’s NG Wing Nam to take the title 11-9, 11-9, 10-12, 8-11, 11-6, 11-6.