Xu Xin and Chen Meng sweep titles at Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour Korea OpenPhoto: ITTF
They are ranked first in the world for a reason. Chinese stars Xu Xin and Chen Meng entered the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour SHINHAN Korea Open as the most in-form players in international table tennis. They now leave Busan with their positions at the top of the tree in the men's and women's game firmly consolidated after picking up gold in their respective singles and doubles events.
Xu defeated Ma Long (CHN) over five games (7-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-7, 11-8) in a match that showcased some of the most spectacular shots and rallies across the six-day event. This was champagne table tennis at its finest, the range of strokes and lightning-speed reactions underlining just why the iconic duo has been the bedrock of Team China over the years. For Xu, his impressive comeback victory ended a run of four consecutive defeats to 'The Dragon.' He had lost a total of 20 matches and won just eight against the reigning world champion heading into this contest, his excitement at full-time understandably high: "Winning the title is not the reason I am feeling so happy. It's because I beat Ma Long," was all he needed to say to convey his raw emotions during his on-court interview. Xu, who rose to the world no.1 position last week, holds the record for Korea Open titles (four) and has now won at back-to-back events, having scooped gold at the Japan Open in June. He is very much the man to beat at next week's Australian Open in Geelong.
There can be no doubt that Chen Meng is a natural-born winner. The women's world no.1 overpowered no.3 Ding Ning (CHN) from the outset of Sunday's final, charging to a 3-0 lead in no time at all. Reigning Olympic champion Ding pulled back a game and put up a serious fight in the fifth. However, she was unable to complete what would have been an incredible comeback, as Chen saw out the 4-1 victory (11-5, 11-6, 11-5, 7-11, 11-9) to celebrate her third ITTF World Tour women's singles title of 2019 following wins in Hungary and China. In terms of mental strength, the 25-year-old is up there with the greats. Her record in women's singles finals on the ITTF World Tour now sits at 12 wins from 15 appearances: a simply outstanding feat.
Despite a disappointing end to her campaign in Busan, the Korea Open marked something of a revival for 29-year-old Ding, who reached her first women's singles title on the ITTF World Tour since last August's Bulgarian Open.
Not for the first time, Xu Xin and Chen Meng were also dominant across the doubles competitions, which reached their climax on Saturday. Xu sealed gold in the men's doubles alongside Fan Zhendong after an emphatic 3-0 victory (11-9, 11-7, 11-6) over Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu (KOR). The 29-year-old also partnered Liu Shiwen to silver in the mixed doubles, their incredible unbeaten record finally coming to an end in their 23rd match since linking up last November. Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem (HKG) celebrated gold instead after their 3-1 triumph (11-9, 11-8, 6-11, 13-11).
Meanwhile, Chen tasted success in the women's doubles alongside Wang Manyu, who defeated Choi Hyojoo and Yang Haeun (KOR) in consecutive, but hard-fought games (12-10, 15-13, 11-6).
It was always going to be difficult for the hosts to replicate the ecstatic scenes of last year's Korea Open, when Jang Woojin (KOR) celebrated an historic triple crown. This year, Jang was forced to withdraw from the tournament on Friday due to a toe injury sustained against compatriot Jeoung Youngsik. As chance would have it, this symbolised something of a passing of the baton to Jeoung, now entrusted with the hopes of his nation. He shouldered the responsibility brilliantly. The 27-year-old caused arguably the biggest upset of the tournament in Saturday's quarter-final, defeating world no.3 Fan Zhendong in six scintillating games (11-5, 9-11, 8-11, 13-11, 11-9, 12-10).
He also ruffled the feathers of the legendary Ma Long in Sunday's semi-final, drawing the scores level at 1-1 before going on to lose the next three games, not without a fight (7-11, 11-5, 7-11, 6-11, 9-11). Jeoung's brave performances never failed to convert the Sajik Indoor Gymnasium into a cauldron of noise. The electric atmosphere conjured up by Korea's passionate fans bodes very well for when Busan hosts next year's World Table Tennis Championships at the BEXCO.
The other beaten semi-finalist in the men's singles was Wang Chuqin (CHN). The 19-year-old, ranked 71st in the world, impressed throughout the event, defeating the far higher positioned Lin Yun-Ju (TPE), Marcos Freitas (POR) and Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) before eventually losing to Xu Xin over six hard-fought games (11-8, 18-20, 7-11, 7-11, 11-5, 5-11). The eventual champion was quick to praise the teenage talent, who surely has a bright future in the sport: "Wang Chuqin is very young and has been playing very well. I believe that he will continue to grow and leave a positive mark in the Chinese team."
As is fast becoming the custom, Sun Yingsha (CHN) reached the latter stages of a major event again after staging a most eye-catching comeback victory over Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN) in the quarter-finals (10-12, 8-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-3, 11-6, 13-11). As chance had it, the 19-year-old was on the receiving end of Ding Ning's fightback in Sunday's semi-final, leading 3-1 before losing 4-3 (11-8, 5-11, 11-8, 11-9, 8-11, 6-11, 8-11).
Now at the halfway stage of the 2019 ITTF World Tour, the next stop will take the globe's best players to Geelong for the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum Australian Open. Do not miss the action!