BUDAPEST – FP-JIJI
Mima Ito and Hina Hayata finished as runners-up at the table tennis world championships on Sunday, losing the women’s doubles final against China’s Wang Manyu and Sun Yingsha 4-2.
Ito and Hayata, bronze medalists at the last world championships in 2017, were attempting to become the first Japanese duo to win a world title since 1967.
“We came in intent on winning, but for Japanese players, this is the stage where we always lose to the Chinese,” Ito said. “They are like a wall for us. We were able to put up good fights, so we are getting stronger, but there is still a talent gap.”
With the match tied at two games apiece, and 9-9 in the fifth game, Ito and Hayata appeared to take the upper hand when their serve was not returned. But the judge controversially ruled it a “let” (akin to a fault in tennis) for touching the net. Wang and Sun won the replayed point and never looked back in an 8-11, 3-11, 11-8, 11-3, 12-10, 11-8 victory.
The Japan Table Tennis Association filed a protest with the International Table Tennis Federation over the controversial ruling following the match.
According to the sources, Japan officials asked that an instant video replay system be introduced after Ito and Hayata disagreed on the let serve call that turned the tide in favor of their opponents.
Ito and Hayata, who thought they had won the point, opted to take a timeout after disputing the call.
“I was sure it (the decision) was wrong and I said so to the umpire, but she wouldn’t even look at the video. I don’t want to make excuses but that one point made a big difference. (Had we won it) I feel like we could’ve gone on to win the match,” Ito said.
According to ITTF sources, the chief umpire was Malaysian and the assistant umpire was from Sweden.
In tennis, the video review system gives players the chance to challenge judgement calls from the umpire, and in soccer, the video assistant referee (VAR) is used to aid refereeing decisions.
Hayata and Ito were the first Japanese pair to reach a world final since 1971. Playing in front of a loud contingent of Chinese supporters, the Japanese 18-year-olds quickly ran out in front of Wang and Sun, who seemed to have trouble getting good returns on Ito’s low forehand flicks either missing completely or hitting poor shots.
After the second game went by in a blur, Sun and Wang looked to have adjusted and jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third game and fought off a charge by the Japanese to pull within one game.
“We had a great chance to win this after going up 2-0,” Hayata said. “It gave me this sensation like there’s no way we can beat Chinese players.
“I’m proud that we got this far, having settled for bronze last time, but obviously we have to find a way to hold on and win these matches.
The Chinese pair looked rock solid in the fourth game to tie the match as Ito and Hayata looked more and more unsure.
Wang and Sun then capitalized on their fifth-game reprieve and seized complete control of the match.
“Blowing that two-game lead was extremely frustrating,” Ito said. “We were nearly perfect in the second game. But even if you beat them with a perfect game, you have to expect Chinese players to come back. They adjusted, took us off our game and we didn’t get it back.”
In the men’s final, China’s Ma Long captured his third world title, completing a dream comeback after six months on the sidelines with a knee injury.
The 30-year-old, nicknamed the “Dragon,” defeated Sweden’s Mattias Falck 4-1 in the final.
Ma is only the third man to claim three world titles after Victor Barna, who claimed four between 1932 and 1935, and Zhuang Zedong, the 1961, 1963 and 1965 champion.
In the women’s event, Liu Shiwen downed Chinese compatriot Chen Meng 4-2.
“Ever since I became Women’s World Cup champion at the age of 19, I have always dreamt of winning the World Championships,” the 28-year-old Liu said in comments posted on the ITTF website. “Since then, I missed out on the opportunity by losing two finals. I found myself doubting my ability to succeed and I even considered giving up. Therefore, I am very grateful to all those who have been supporting me all this while and my team for giving me this chance to win today. I think that I deserve this trophy, even if it has taken time.”
Ma also went home with the men’s doubles gold, teaming with Wang Chuqin as China achieved a clean sweep of gold medals.