Junior girls World No.8 and tournament fifth-seed Petrissa Solja toppled Liu Gaoyang, ranked three places above her in global listings and billed third, to advance to the semifinals of the Volkswagen World Junior Table Tennis championships at the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh indoor stadium on Saturday.
The fifth seeded German subdued her Chinese opponent, positioned one place higher in the event’s pecking order, 6-11, 7-11, 11-6, 12-10, 11-8, 11-8.
Mounting a strong counter-attack after losing the first two games, Solja gave Liu a taste of her own medicine, the former matching the latter drive for drive in a duel of left-handers. The German’s flicked returns of serve strayed now and then, but were by and large accurate as were her backhand top-spun drives, giving her the edge to stay a step or two ahead almost all through the contest.
The Worth am Rhein native from the cold climes of the Rhineland kept her cool, and more importantly her control, to fire winners frequently, clinching games three, four, five and then the decider.
Solja shed tears of joy, hugging her teammates, after she’d done her bit to undermine China’s total dominance. “I am yet to realize what I’ve done. This is the best world championship for me,” the German Open under-21 champion said.
Three points from victory, she flubbed a forehand and then took a timeout. “I tried to focus ball by ball,” she said, of her approach to the crucial closing minutes. On whom she’d inform first, Solja, whose hobby is cooking, said, “That’s a secret.” China’s Fan Zhendong ousted favourite Yuto Muramatsu of Japan, 11-7, 11-9, 13-11, 9-11, 12-10 in the boys’ quarterfinals. Eighth-ranked Fan Shengpeng, also of China, upset fourth-placed Simon Gauzy of France 8-11, 11-8, 11-13, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7, 11-6.
Earlier, Gernamy’s Benedikt Duda, billed 15th, pulled the rug from under the feet of Asuka Machi, ranked no.3, with a hard-fought 11-9, 9-11, 8-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 17-15 victory.
Japan suffered another reverse at the hands of 10th-ranked Fan Shengpeng, who shocked eighth seed Asuka Sakai 11-9, 11-6, 11-6, 12-10. Xu Chenhao, listed at no.20 packed off France’s Tristan Flore, the sixth seed, 11-9, 11-6, 10-12, 11-8, 4-11, 11-6.
Sutirtha Mukherjee had no answers to Gu Yuting’s forehand back-spun serves and lost game one in next to no time in the girls’ round of 16.
Driven away from the table, the Kolkata girl could, at best, only block and push, unable to stem the barrage of top-spun thunderbolts.
The 15-year-old showed more enterprise subsequently, turning the blocks and pushes to counter drives in game three. In the fourth, Sutirtha even managed to wrong-foot the tournament’s second seed. There wasn’t much she could do against the world no. 4 and first Youth Olympics gold medallist, so vastly superior in every aspect of the game.
Lily Zhang, one of the youngest to compete in the London Olympics, looked to be taking the initiative against Ayhika Mukherjee. A string of backhand drives had the Indian — bolstered by anti-spin rubber on the backhand and short pimples on the fore — on the back foot. Superior court coverage weighed in the American’s favour too. It goes to the Indian’s credit nonetheless that she could wring a game out of the event’s 10th seed, also listed as world no.19.
The results (Quarterfinals): Girls: Petrissa Solja (Ger) bt Liu Gaoyang (Chn) 6-11, 7-11, 11-6, 12-10, 11-8, 11-8; Gu Ruochen (Chn) bt Lily Zhang (USA) 11-6, 11-2, 11-5, 11-9; Zhu Yuling (Chn) bt Bernadette Szocs (Rom) 11-8, 12-10, 11-6, 15-13; Gu Yuting (Chn) bt Ayuka Tanioka (Jpn) 11-7, 12-10, 13-11, 11-3. Junior boys: Quarterfinals: Fan Zhendong (Chn) bt Yuto Muramatsu 11-7, 11-9, 13-11, 9-11, 12-10, Fan Shengpeng (Chn) bt Simon Gauzy (Fra) 8-11, 11-8, 11-13, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7, 11-6.