Kuwait Open - ITTF Pro Tour
Japan’s Ai Fukuhara continued her amazing run of success at the Salwa Cup Kuwait Open Saturday 27th February 2010 by beating China’s Guo Yan, the no.3 seed, at the semi-final stage of the Women’s Singles event.
Supported by her team mates in the tiered seating at one end of the stadium, Ai Fukuhara captured the first game to her supporters delight whilst adjacent in the seating for spectators, the 40 or so Chinese fans were relatively silenced.
In trademark style, Ai Fukuhara attacked quickly from the backhand; Guo Yan tried to answer the speed with heavy top spin strokes directed towards the body of Ai Fukuhara.
Recovery but in Vain
However, she made mistakes; she trailed 7-10 in the first game, levelled at 10-all but won no more points.
Serving well it was first blood top Ai Fukuhara.
Stung by the reverse Guo Yan won the first five points of the fifth game; the consistent heavy top spin forcing errors from the racket of Ai Fukuhara.
The 21 year old Japanese star responded; she levelled at 8-all, the next two points went to Guo Yan; Ai Fukuhara, serving, saved the first game point using her high thrown forehand service to good effect but she could not save the second.
A short return from Guo Yan forced an error, it was parity in the match.
First Game Revisited
Superb blocking skills from Ai Fukuhara greeted the start of the third game
The fact that Ai Fukuhara was able to return the strong top spin strokes of her adversary frustrated Guo Yan.
She made errors in trying to penetrate the defensive wall; the shoulders shrugged. Ai Fukuhara established a 7-3 lead in the third game. Not only was her blocking of a high level, her high thrown forehand service was bringing passive return from Guo Yan on which Ai Fukuhara could capitalise.
Ai Fukuhara moved ahead 9-6 and at 10-7 held game point; playing with spin not speed Guo Yan levelled but the next point went to Ai Fukuhara and just as in the first game having surrendered three game points she succeeded on her fourth opportunity.
Second Game Revisited
The high thrown forehand services and the fast backhand drives from the short pimples continued to cause Guo Yan problems.
Guo Yan’s rhythm was being upset by the in form Japanese star but to her credit the young lady from Beijing fought. She went ahead 7-4 in the fourth game but Ai Fukuhara levelled at 7-all but never gained a lead.
Once again the match score was level.
In the fifth game the pattern of play continued, top spins from Guo Yan, fast sideways movement close to the table from Ai Fukuihara in order to effect a series of backhand and forehand blocks.
Ai Fukuhara took an early lead but urging herself vocally with a cry of success after each point won, Guo Yan went ahead 6-4; success coming by being consistent and executing a winning forehand across the diagonal to Ai Fukuhara’s forehand.
In order to combat the tactic, Ai Fukuhara, using the high thrown service, moved to the centre of the table to serve in order to reduce the angles.
She met with success, won the game and was in the ascendancy.
Once again Guo Yan was charged with the task of having to recover.
Frustration showed as she lost the first two points in the sixth game; tension was mounting. It was a crucial stage of the contest.
At 7-all, the scores were level, Guo Yan was composing herself but penetrating the blocking skills of Ai Fukuhara was a problem but the next two points went to Ai Fukuhara forcing Yan Sen, the Chinese coach on duty to call “Time Out”.
Serving, Guo Yan levelled, then playing with spin not speed held game point; a net cord fortune for Ai Fukuhara, it was parity; game point again to Guo Yan, Ai Fukuhara served, the return finished in the based of the net.
Then match point to Ai Fukuhara; converted at the first attempt, a smile of joy dazzled the face of the victor.
Ten Year on ITTF Pro Tour
History heavily favoured Guo Yan; 27 years old, including Grand Finals, she had been a semi-finalist in Women’s Singles events on the ITTF Pro Tour on no less than 46 occasions since she first appeared in Farum at the Danish Open in 2000.
However, often she has been the bridesmaid, of those penultimate round appearances she has only progressed to capture the top prize on six occasions; notably winning the Women’s Singles title at the ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals in 2008 and retaining the title just over one year later when the event was once again staged in Macau in January 2010.
Conversely, for Ai Fukuhara, she had only three previous semi-final Women’s Singles ITTF Pro Tour appearances to her credit, winning her one and only title in 2009 in Morocco.
Notably her successes had been when the Chinese had been absent and against Guo Yan had only victory in international play to her credit.
At the Asian Cup in March 2003 she won when the pair met in the quarter-finals; otherwise all seven further duels had gone the way of Guo Yan.
In Kuwait that pattern was halted; Ai Fukuhara ended the run of defeats and boked a place in the final.
photo Cheltenham jockey club
photo Cheltenham Racecourse