18-year-old sensation Lin Yun-Ju wins first career ITTF World Tour men's singles title at 2019 Czech Open
Lin Yun-Ju just keeps getting better and better! The teenage talent from Chinese Taipei celebrated his debut gold medal at an ITTF World Tour men's singles event on Sunday 25th August, when he defeated former world no.1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the final (11-9, 11-5, 4-11, 11-5, 11-9) at the 2019 Czech Open in Olomouc. Judging by how the 18-year-old star has played throughout 2019, this could well be his first of many singles successes on international table tennis' premier event series. This year, Lin already claimed consecutive mixed doubles titles at the China and Hong Kong Opens, a triple crown (men's singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles titles) at the Challenge Plus Oman Open, as well as tasting individual glory at the T2 Diamond Malaysia event.
Runner-up to current world no.1 Xu Xin at the Japan Open in June, it has not taken long for Lin to bounce back and take top honours in Czech Republic, where he simply had too much quality, confidence and a characteristically cool mind for his opponents to handle. His last two matches pitted him against two of the most experienced players on the international table tennis circuit, Ovtcharov and Timo Boll, whose combined age of 68 represents half a century more than Lin's tender years, while the German duo also boast a total of 28 ITTF World Tour men's singles titles. Unfazed by the pair's undisputed pedigree, Lin held his nerve firstly staving off what threatened to be another vintage Boll comeback to win in seven games (12-10, 9-11, 11-2, 11-6, 5-11, 6-11, 11-8) and then defeating Ovtcharov, who had been so impressive throughout the week in Olomouc, with a most professional performance worthy of winning the ultimate prize.
"I am very happy about winning my first men's singles title on the ITTF World Tour. I had come up against Boll and Ovtcharov before, so I was familiar with their playing style. My coach also helped me a lot today. He called the timeout at a key moment in the final match and he advised me to change up my tactics and service game a little bit. I don't think that this title will change my career so much. The matches will still be just as hard from now on and possibly even harder than before." – Lin Yun-Ju
It has been an unforgettable European summer for Chen Xingtong, who followed up victory at last week's Bulgaria Open with success in Czech Republic. The Chinese 11th seed defeated 19-year-old Miu Hirano in the most intense of finals, with the Japanese 3rd seed staging an incredible comeback from 0-3 down to take the match to a seventh game, only for Chen to complete the job and break Hirano's heart in the process (11-5, 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 12-14, 8-11, 11-8).
"I have now won two titles in a row, but I haven't set myself any specific goals for the future. I will just focus on the next match in the next tournament and I shall try to play my best again. The Czech Open was a very nice competition and I won it, so everything here was perfect." – Chen Xingtong
Both finalists had entered their showdown with all guns blazing after posting 4-1 scorelines in their respective semi-finals, Hirano ousting Japanese top seed Kasumi Ishikawa before Chen accounted for compatriot Feng Yalan. Hirano had already completed a mesmerising comeback from 0-3 down to win 4-3 in her quarter-final against China's Liu Weishan on Saturday.
At only 14 years of age, Korea Republic's Shin Yubin broke the record as the youngest ever mixed doubles winner at an ITTF World Tour event. The prodigious talent partnered compatriot and 16-year-old Cho Daeseong for their first international title as a pair after overcoming Japanese duo Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani in Saturday's thrilling final (6-11, 15-13, 12-10, 16-18, 12-10). The victory was especially impressive as Ito and Mizutani had proven their credentials as a top pair themselves only one week prior when they won the Bulgaria Open.
Korea Republic had plenty to celebrate in the men's doubles too, as Cho Daeseong and Lee Sangsu registered their first ITTF World Tour victory as a pair (for Cho it was his first ever) by defeating Chinese Taipei's Liao Cheng-Ting and Lin Yun-Ju (11-4, 11-8, 7-11, 11-6). The women's doubles title went the way of Chinese duo Gu Yuting and Mu Zi, who entered the action in Olomouc from the qualification rounds. They defeated Japan's Miu Hirano and Saki Shibata 3-1 in the final (9-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-6).
1,060 days had passed since the last time that four different countries were represented in the men's and women's singles finals of an ITTF World Tour event (the 2016 Belgium Open) – an eye-catching statistic, but one which only scratches the surface about the range and diversity of nationalities to have excelled here in Olomouc.
Brazil's Hugo Calderano was a key player this week, the 2nd seed showing a typically inspirational fighting spirit when he overcame an ankle injury to defeat Russia's Alexander Shibaev in the quarter-final, before falling short against Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the final four (11-7, 9-11, 6-11, 11-13, 11-6, 9-11).
All things considered, this was a fine tournament for Germany's star trio of Ovtcharov, Boll and Patrick Franziska. Ovtcharov was imperious until the final hurdle and swept aside Franziska 4-0 in their quarter-final clash to claim the advantage in the race to join Boll in singles competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (click here to read more).
However, Franziska had impressed in the previous round when he fought back from 3-1 down to eliminate Rio 2016 bronze medallist Jun Mizutani. Arguably the king of comebacks, Boll too produced heart-stopping entertainment by clawing his way from 3-1 down against Lee Sangsu to reach the semi-final, where he very nearly did the same against eventual winner Lin Yun-Ju.
The women's singles also benefitted from a greater unpredictability than ever at the Czech Open. Hirano played arguably her best table tennis since winning the 2016 Women's World Cup, while Austria's Sofia Polcanova and Korea Republic's Jeon Jihee joined the quarter-final party.
At first glance, Olomouc – a city of just over 100,000 people – may not seem like a hive of international activity, but as far as table tennis is concerned, this event had all the ingredients necessary to excite a captive global audience and provide the latest proof of how the sport is continuing to grow in all corners of the world.