The Seamaster 2017 Asian Championships took place in Wuxi on the second week of April. The most outstanding result of the tournament is the gold medal achieved by Miu Hirano, who managed to win three matches in a row against Chinese players.
Not only is she the first non-Chinese champion since 1996, but she beat the world number one player and World Champion, Ding Ning, in the quarter-finals. In this article, we will analyze the match between Miu Hirano and Ding Ning, spotting the Japanese players winning strategy and showing some numbers that explain this major upset.
The odds power
Miu Hirano is, as of April 2017, the world’s 11th ranked player. As we analyzed in our previous article on the World Ranking, the higher ranked player wins 75 % of the times. In this case, Ding Ning is not only ranked higher than Miu Hirano, but she is the world’s first ranked player, and has been intermittently at that privileged position for 42 months of her career since November 2011.
Previous results between these two players were not promising either. The ITTF World Tour has seen Miu Hirano and Ding Ning play five times in the last four years, all of them with the same result: 4-0 for Ding Ning.
And last but not least, experience is usually a big asset, especially in these important competitions. Miu Hirano is only 17 years old, whereas Ding Ning is 27.
The action happened at the quarter-finals of the Asian Championships. Best of five, and a medal at stake – it seemed like it was going to be one more day at the office for Ding Ning.
First set: 11-3 for Ding Ning. In the second, 9-6 for Ding Ning, but a sudden comeback by Hirano forced the Chinese player to stop for a timeout and reach deuce several times (10-10, 11-11, 12-12). However, Ding Ning got that set too, and led 2-0.
The third set started in a different fashion, with Hirano having one or two points of an advantage all the time. Well resolved by her, 9-11, and 2-1 on the scoreboard.
The fourth set changed the course once more, and Ding Ning led it. She reached a 9-5 and then 10-8 on the score, which meant two match points. Both saved by Hirano, but there were three more to come: 11-10, 12-11 and 14-13. And none of them successful, as the set result was 14-16, for Hirano, which tied the match and forced the fifth and last set.
The last set was very tight, with two points difference at most. Hirano got the first two match balls with 8-10 on the scoreboard. Ding Ning used her skill and experience and saved both of them, which ensured a thrilling end. Nevertheless, two points in a row for Hirano were enough for her to win the set 10-12.
The final result: 2-3 (11-3, 14-12, 9-11, 14-16, 10-12) for Miu Hirano. Her words after the match highlight the magnitude of this victory:
“Competing with such a high level player like Ding Ning, especially while, 0-2 down and 5-9 behind in the fourth game, I feel I had to give my best fight and wasn’t thinking too much at that point.” — Miu Hirano
The match highlights, from the ITTF Official Channel, can be watched here:
It is in the numbers
Let’s take a look at the numbers of the match, which will help to explain how the match developed. To begin with, some stats:
Three noticeable things: Ding Ning won more points than Miu Hirano, Miu Hirano had twice as many winners as Ding Ning, but she had much more unforced errors than Ding Ning. This reveals one fact of the match: Miu Hirano played more aggressively, and it ended up being worth it.
However, regardless of that fact, the first two sets were won by Ding Ning. Was there any aspect of the game that changed after the second set?
As can be observed, the rally length increased slightly as the match went on. However, long rallies were won equally by both players. The following table shows the fifteen longest rallies of the match:
As we can see, the rally length did not especially play in favour of either of the players.
Let’s take a look now at different insights into the different kinds of strokes used. First, a comparison of the number of times each player made each stroke:
There are major differences between the playing styles of Ding Ning and of Miu Hirano. The Chinese player had a more equal distribution of the different kinds of strokes. However, 70 % of them correspond to the backhand.
Approximately 80% of Miu Hirano’s shots were forehand and backhand topspins, which denotes her already-mentioned aggressiveness. As well as that, 60% of her shots were with the forehand side of the racket.
Hirano did not use the backhand flick, whereas Ding Ning used it 15 times. On the other hand, Ding Ning avoided the forehand flick, while Hirano did that stroke 17 times.
Now, a couple of charts that show the number of winners and mistakes classified by type of shot:
Some interesting facts are revealed, which are exemplified in the following videos:
- Ding Ning had a terrible day with her forehand topspin. She used that stroke 48 times, with 15 missed shots and only one winner.
- Miu Hirano risked attacking with her forehand: 30 mistakes and 11 winners out of the 98 attempts.
- Ding Ning counteracted Miu Hirano attacks with her backhand blocks, which became the most-utilized stroke, and the one with more winners: 3.
Finally, let’s analyze the players’ serve, as it has a lot to do with the data we have just presented. The following infographic shows the ball bounce point and trajectory:
There are some noticeable differences between both serves:
- Ding Ning’s serve went most of the times towards Hirano’s forehand, being mainly short and mid-long. Only a few of them targeted the Japanese player’s backhand side.
- Miu Hirano avoided Ding Ning’s forehand, and the majority of her serves were either short or deep on the Chinese player’s backhand. This strategy forced Ding Ning to attack the second ball, which eased a counter-topspin on the third ball for Miu Hirano.
In summary, Hirano’s strategy was based on looking for Ding Ning’s backhand. Long serves to that area of the table ensured the chance for her to take the initiative of the game. Meanwhile, the Chinese player was comfortable with this setup. However, too many mistakes on her forehand topspin and the lack of winners with her backhand prevented her from the victory.
Miu Hirano is, without a doubt, a rising star and her latest results will definitely put pressure on her in upcoming appearances. A more recent match saw her lose 4-0 against Kasumi Ishikawa in the Korean Open, having quite a poor performance.
She will soon compete in the 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf, which will become a tough test for her. Will she be able to repeat her success and beat Ding Ning or any other Chinese player? Everything seems possible from now on.