December 15, 2019
World Tour Grand Finals Recap
(by Steve Hopkins/Photo by ITTF)
There were two main story lines at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals this week in Zhengzhou, China. The top story line is the amazing level of play with every player in the Top 10 competing, and the four top players in the World advancing to the Semifinals. The other story line is the dominance of China.
To tackle these stories in reverse order, six of sixteen players that qualified for the Tour Grand Finals were from China. In the opening round, only three non-Chinese players advanced, and each of these four matches was between two non-Chinese players. To say that differently, the Chinese player won every match in the Round of 16 (there was one match between two Chinese players). Tomokazu Harimoto, Lin Yun-Ju, and Hugo Calderano were the only three non-Chinese players to advance to the Quarters – and all three lost their Quarterfinal match. All four players to advance to the Semifinals were Chinese – not wholly unexpected as the top four players in the world are all Chinese.
While this tournament failed to have the upset excitement of a year ago, where Japan’s Harimoto upset three players on his way to winning, the final matches this year did include the best four players in the world. Xu Xin and Ma Long each needed a comeback to get out of their Quarterfinal match (Xu Xin finished his match with Harimoto with two 13-11 wins, and Ma Long had trailed three different times against Lliang Jingkun before winning the final two games). In the Semifinal, it was Ma Long that started strong (winning the first three games) and then holding on for the 4-2 upset win. In the bottom half of the draw, it was Fan Zhendong dominating with 4-0, 4-1, and 4-2 wins on his way to the Final.
Fan Zhendong won the first game of the Final 11-6. Ma Long showed a spark in the second game tying the score 10-10, but when Fan won the next two points that effectively ended the competitive part of the match. Fan dominated the third game. Ma Long secured a victory in the fourth game. Fan dominated the final game for the 4-1 victory.
Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong have traded the top position in the World for much of 2019. With only 450 points between them (Xu Xin at 16600 and Fan at 16150), this could mean that Fan will start 2020 as the world No. 1.