by Simon Daish
Seeded third for the women’s singles draw and having won the title in 2016, Ito travelled to Linz as a major contender for glory and she opened her campaign with real intent.
Dropping just one game across her two opening fixtures against Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin (11-9, 14-12, 12-10, 11-5) and Hitomi Sato (11-13, 11-5, 11-4, 12-10, 11-1), another class performance followed in the quarter-finals as Ito needed just five games to beat no.6 seed Cheng I-Ching (3-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8). Then, in a potential banana-skin encounter, Ito swiftly dealt with one of the surprise packages of the tournament in Chinese qualifier Qian Tianyi by a convincing 4-0 score-line (11-6, 11-9, 11-9, 11-6) to reach the final.
Awaiting Ito at the final hurdle was none other than top seed Zhu Yuling, one of China’s finest players who held a superior head-to-head record (3:1) from their past encounters.
However, Zhu hadn’t enjoyed the most comfortable of passages to the gold medal match having required the full match distance in both her quarter-final and semi-final affairs against Gu Yuting and Wang Yidi. Then there was also the fact that in their most recent meeting Ito produced a crushing 4-0 win over Zhu at the 2018 Swedish Open, a contest which coincidentally also happened to be a final.
With all of this considered there was reason for the Ito camp to feel optimistic, emotions that were evident right from the start as Ito set the stage alight in game one with her blistering pace and all-out attack.
Holding a total of three game points in game two Ito had her chances to double her lead early in the contest, but Zhu did well to recover and after finally converting on her fifth game point opportunity it was the top seed who took the game 18-16 to brings the scores level.
Clearly disappointed with the outcome of game two but showing great maturity to keep her chin up and leave it in the past, cancelling out Zhu temporary momentum boost with a quick response in the third game to move ahead once again. Then, for the first time in the match, Ito managed to put some daylight between her and Zhu, claiming game four at the third game point attempt to extend her advantage to 3-1.
Just one more game was required but it was important that Ito didn’t let her concentration drift, focusing on each game as it comes. Attempting to overcome a monumental climb Zhu survived Ito’s first championship point, but she couldn’t manage another.
Mima Ito emerged as 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum bet-at-home.com Austrian Open champion (11-5, 16-18, 11-7, 13-11, 12-10).
Ito was back on the top step of an ITTF World Tour women’s singles podium for the first time this year, in fact her previous gold medal success in the category came at the 2018 Swedish Open in Stockholm beating Zhu on that occasion too. Not even in her 20s as of the time of writing but Ito has already amassed an impressive seven women’s singles titles on the ITTF World Tour. For reference, Zhu who will turn 25 in January 2020, has lifted four.
This is not just a one off occasion, Ito has been the player posing the most threat to the Chinese elite in recent years and only last month was involved in the women’s singles finals at both the 2019 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open and 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open.
Not only does this result bode well for Ito’s aspirations for next month’s 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals but also paints a promising picture for the teenager at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Since the sport of table tennis was introduced to the Olympic stage in 1988 no athlete from outside of China has won women’s singles gold, now the one player Team China fears could bring that incredible run to a halt has just laid down a major statement of intent.