ITTF Pro Tour Finals: Day 1

ITTF Pro Tour Finals Review

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Samsonov-Wang Hao once more

Stockholm, Sweden, 11 December 2002. Top European Vladimir SAMSONOV (BLR) against young Chinese WANG Hao and Olympic Champion KONG Linghui (CHN) against young upcoming CHUAN Chi-Yuan (TPE). Those two matches seem to be the highlights of the first round in Men’s Singles at the Pro Tour Grand Finals.

SAMSONOV has already lost twice this year to the 18 year old WANG Hao. At the Egypt Open SAMSONOV got a lesson losing 4-0 to the – at that time – quite unknown Chinese. Eventually WANG Hao took the Egyptian title. Again at the Dutch Open SAMSONOV lost to WANG, once more having difficulties with penholder WANG’s back hand top spin which he executes with the “wrong” side of the racket.
“First of all WANG is a very good player, but it is true that his back hand is particularly difficult to read. You can’t see if he makes top spin or side spin. Hopefully I learnt from the two defeats. I believe I can beat him, now that I know him better”, says Vladimir SAMSONOV after the draw on Wednesday.

KONG Linghui has similar problems with young CHUAN Chi-Yuan (TPE). KONG lost to the fast moving CHUAN twice in October, at the Asian Championships and at the Dutch Open.

MA Lin (CHN) is the name everybody mention when they are asked to predict the winner of the Grand Finals. MA Lin faces Aleksei SMIRNOV (RUS) in the first round.

“Yes, it is true that my form has been excellent lately, and I had some good wins, but that doesn’t give me anything for free here. Yes, I am nr. 1 on the World Ranking, but it doesn’t mean that I have a 2-0 lead when the match starts. Table tennis is unpredictable, and with so many strong players anything can happen”, says MA Lin.

Matches start on Thursday afternoon.

Tough draw for Steff

Stockholm, Sweden, 12 November 2002. The Romanian star Mihaela STEFF got the worst possible opponent when the draw for the Pro Tour Grand Finals put her up against favourite ZHANG Yining (CHN) in the first round of the Women’s Singles which will be played on Thursday.

During the last few months ZHANG has proved to be almost unbeatable. STEFF and ZHANG has only met once this year – ZHANG won in the quarter finals at the Women’s World Cup in Singapore in August.
The other European hope, Tamara BOROS (CRO) had more luck – though nothing is easy in Stockholm. BOROS meets Singaporean LI Jia Wei. BOROS has a positive record agains LI Jia Wei, but the Singaporean won their last match, at the Italian Open this year.

14 year old Chinese GUO Yue is at her first Pro Tour Final. She will have a difficult start meeting compatriot and 2nd seed LI Nan.

The Pro Tour Grand Finals will finish on Sunday. The total prize money is 240.000 US Dollars and the winner in Women’s Singles walks away with 26.000.

Youngsters winning

Stockholm, Sweden, 12th December 2002. Vladimir SAMSONOV once more had to surrender to the young Chinese WANG Hao. SAMSONOV lost to him at the Egypt Open and again at the Dutch Open, and in the 1st round of the Men’s Singles at the Grand Finals WANG Hao once more proved his potential. Only 18 and already beating the best!

SAMSONOV was closer than at the two previous encounters, but WANG was constantly one step ahead. The Chinese had the lead 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 but every time SAMSONOV evened.
IN the 7th game however WANG very early took a comfortable lead, and he never let SAMSONOV back into the game.

World’s nr. 1 MA Lin had his problems with the Russian Alexei SMIRNOV. MA took the first two games but then SMIRNOV woke up. He won the 3rd but in the long run he could not match MA Lin’s powerful attack. The Chinese won 4-2.

Like SAMSONOV doesn’t seem to be able to find the key to beat WANG Hao, KONGH Linghui has great problems with the young CHUAN Chi-Yuan (TPE). CHUAN simply seems to be too fast for KONG, and CHUAN beat him for the 3rd time in a row.

Before KONG had to surrender however he showed his famous “survival trick”. Having the lead 3-1 CHUAN had 4 match points in the 5th game. KONG however kept calm, and he came back to win the game 12-10. H also won the 6th to even to 3-3 – but then it was over. CHUAN recovered and took the last decisive game.

In the 5th game I got nervous when KONG came close, and I stopped taking risks. If you do that against KONG he comes back at you”, says CHUAN.

“In the fast game I am quite confident against KONG, but when started changing the tempo I had difficulties”, says CHUAN who has now won the least three matches against KONG.

Early European goodbye

Stockholm, Sweden, 12 December 2002. The 2 top Europeans Tamara BOROS (CRO) and Mihaela STEFF (ROM) both left the Women’s Singles already in the first round of the Grand Finals.

The defeat of Mihaela STEFF was not that sensational since she met the 1st seed ZHANG Yining (CHN), but BOROS was expected to achieve more. She met the Singaporean LI Jia Wei who took control from the very beginning.
LI was blocking well and BOROS never found her rhythm in the first two games. LI went to 2-0 before BOROS got her acts together. The Croatian came back winning the next two games 11-9, but she never really performed convincing and LI finished the match winning 12-10 and 11-5.

Mihaela STEFF never had much to say in the match against ZHANG Yining. The first 2 games (to 1-1) were close, but then ZHANG took off, only giving STEFF 5, 2 and 5 points to take the match 4-1.

The two Japanese qualified also had an early exit. Aya UMEMURA lost to Chinese GUO Yan and Ai FUJINUMA lost 4-0 to LAU Sui Fei (HKG).

Swedish hope did not last

Stockholm, Sweden, 12 December 2002. Peter KARLSSON was the only Swedish player who qualified directly for the Grand Finals, and he was also the only one with a fair chance to challenge the best.

He did challenge European Champion Timo BOLL in their 1st round match in Men’s Singles, but he couldn’t finish the job. KARLSSON lost 4-2.
BOLL had the lead 1-0 and 2-1, but KARLSSON evened to 2-2 playing very well and challenging BOLL successfully with lots of speed. The following games were very close but BOLL proved his ability to step forward even on the most deciding points.

Having the lead 3-2 and 9-5 however BOLL was still not at the end of the road. KARLSSON stayed alive and he actually managed to come back to 10-10 – but again BOLL raised his game and took the two winning points to take the match 4-2.

KARLSSON gets one more chance to perform in front of the home crowd. In Men’s Doubles he is invited together with Fredrik HAKANSSON because the host association has the right to be represented in all events.

RYU Seung Min (KOR) seemed to be on his way to creating an upset against World Champion WANG Liqin. RYU took a 2-0 lead but he couldn’t keep up the steam, and WANG Liqin came back step by step to win the match 4-2.

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