The first Seamaster ITTF Challenge Plus Series of the year commenced in Lisbon, Portugal from Feb 13th to 17th. Despite its Challenge Plus status in the ITTF World Tour series, a plethora of high level players traveled from all around the world to compete, with a staggering total of over 300 entries.
The most notable names included China’s Liu Shiwen from the women’s side. As a four-time winner of the Women’s World Cup, along with countless other prestigious titles under her belt, she was expected to comfortably come out on top of the tournament. On the men’s side, legend and 27-time ITTF World Tour winner, Vladimir Samsonov from Belarus, was also set to compete as only the fourth seed, with China’s Liang Jingkun, Denmark’s Jonathan Groth, and China’s Lin Gaoyuan, respectively ahead of him in the seeding list.
However, as with all major competitions, several major upsets generated drama and surprise amongst fans. Top seed Liu Shiwen was shockingly knocked out in the Round of 16 by Japan’s Hina Hayata 4-2 (9-11, 12-10, 14-12, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8). Hayata continued to bulldoze her way to the final, cruising past Hungarian star, Georgina Pota, 4-0 (11-6, 11-2, 11-2, 11-2) in the quarterfinals, and beating out China’s Hu Limei 4-1 (10-12, 11-4, 11-9, 11-6, 11-6) in the semifinals. In the finals, she faced her Japanese national team compatriot and no. 6 seed, Honoka Hashimoto, in a marathon match that required the full distance of seven games. The decider proved to be just as spectacular, with both competitors battling through the long and exhausting points. Hayata finally edged out her fellow teammate in the last game 11-8, triumphantly grabbing the title as 2019 ITTF Portugal Open Champion and placing the cherry on top of the tournament of her life.
In the men’s singles event, equally dramatic and thrilling matches ensued. Samsonov produced an admirable performance, reaching the semifinals, but eventually falling to top seed Lin Gaoyuan 4-2 (11-7, 11-13, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7). In the other semifinals, China’s Liang Jingkun recovered from a three to nil deficit against teammate Liu Yebo to level the match. Moreover, at 1-5 down in the final game, he pulled off a clutch comeback to seize the match 11-9 and book his spot in the finals. With deadly ripping forehands all across the table, Liang Jingkun continued his magnificent run in the finals. He overpowered Lin Gaoyuan 4-1 (6-11, 12-10, 14-12, 11-7, 11-6), to emerge victorious as the men’s singles champion and claim his second ever men’s singles title at an open international competition.
The mixed doubles event offered a bit of redemption for Liu Shiwen and Lin Gaoyuan, as they convincingly took the title over Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej and Tatiana Kukulkova in three straight games (11-8, 11-6, 11-4).
Last, but certainly not least, China’s first-time pair, Fan Siqi and Yang Huijing, fought their way all the way through the qualification rounds to win the women’s doubles title, narrowly beating Hungary’s Dora Madarasz and Szandra Pergel in the final 3-2 (8-11, 3-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-2). In the men’s doubles event, China repeated their success, with Cao Wei and Xu Yingbin securing gold against Japan’s Shunsuke Togami and Yukiya Uda in four games (5-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-7).
Image courtesy of ITTF.