WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam - Round of 64 Recap

Stage - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

The Saudi Smash 2024 commenced its Round of 64 matches in the men's singles category, marking a thrilling start to the tournament. World-class players from around the globe gathered in Jeddah, competing under the intense spotlight of international table tennis. Key highlights included standout performances by top seeds, who showcased their prowess, advancing confidently to the next stage. Fans enjoyed a series of captivating matches filled with strategic plays and spectacular rallies.

Men’s singles R64

The men's category started with lots of exciting matches. We will cover four memorable ones: Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Alexis Lebrun, Marcos Freitas vs. Nicholas Lum, Truls Moregard vs. Lin Shidong, and Darko Jorgić vs. Can Akkuzu.

Alexis Lebrun vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Alexis Lebrun - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

In a clash of European powerhouses, Alexis Lebrun met Dimitrij Ovtcharov, having previously faced each other at the 2022 WTT Champions in Budapest, where Lebrun triumphed with a score of 3-2. Despite Lebrun's past victory, Ovtcharov entered the match as the favorite, ranked 11th in the world, setting the stage for an intense battle between these top competitors.

Alexis Lebrun took a quick 2-1 lead with an interesting serving strategy, predominantly using long serves. Dimitrij Ovtcharov managed to stabilize as the match progressed. Despite his early lead, Lebrun was consistently trailing in points and showed visible frustration with each mistake, adding tension to the intense matchup.

In the decisive set, Dimitrij Ovtcharov gained a significant 7-2 lead but almost let it slip away. Alexis Lebrun, trailing closely at 7-6, had a crucial attacking opportunity but committed an unforced error, which visibly frustrated him. This error gave Ovtcharov a clear path to secure the victory. He won the last set 11-7, clinching a hard-fought 3-2 victory.

Marcos Freitas vs. Nicholas Lum

Marcos Freitas - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

Marcos Freitas, a seasoned veteran at 36, has repeatedly proven himself as one of the top players in table tennis. In this tournament, he faced Nicholas Lum from Australia, a relatively unknown name in the top circuit. This matchup highlighted the blend of experience and emerging talent, setting up an intriguing contest.

Marcos Freitas entered as the clear favorite against Nicholas Lum, anticipated to have an easier match on paper. However, the reality was quite different as Lum displayed a relaxed and fluid playing style that challenged Freitas. The first two sets featured a one-dimensional game where short points dominated and the attacker usually scored. Lum managed to get the upper hand in both sets, showcasing his potential against the seasoned veteran.

In the subsequent set, it was up to Marcos Freitas to adapt and counter Lum's effective third-ball attacks. Freitas managed to contain some of these plays, yet when rallies intensified, Lum demonstrated that he could match Freitas in the spin-on-spin exchanges, proving his ability to compete at a high level.

Nicholas Lum showcased remarkable composure, successfully winning both his serves when leading 9-7 in the third set, securing a 3-0 victory. This win, undoubtedly one of the biggest of his career, demonstrated his potential and skill on a prominent stage against a seasoned opponent like Marcos Freitas.

Lin Shidong vs Truls Moregard

Truls Moregard - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

In the battle of the youngsters, Lin Shidong faced Truls Moregard. Although close in the rankings — Lin at #15 and Truls at #18 — Lin entered as the favorite. He also carried the burden of proving himself in front of his older Chinese peers, adding an extra layer of motivation to perform well in this high-stakes match.

Though there are no WTT games on record between Lin Shidong and Truls Moregard, they previously met in the China Superleague where Shidong secured a 3-0 victory before a home crowd. Despite the straight-set win, the match was intensely competitive, with scores of 11-9, 13-11, and 12-10 in each set, indicating closely fought contests throughout.

Lin Shidong utilized his powerful backhand to dominate the first two sets of the match. In the third set, Truls Moregard introduced his trademark side-downwards blocks, adding a new dimension to his game. This strategic adjustment gave him a sliver of hope and was just enough to tip the scales in his favor, allowing him to clinch the set 13-11.

In the fourth set, Lin Shidong came in more prepared, adapting his strategy based on the previous set's outcome. He took control in the latter part of the set, securing a convincing win. With this 3-1 victory, Lin advanced to the Round of 32, demonstrating his ability to adjust and excel under pressure.

Darko Jorgić vs. Can Akkuzu

Darko Jorgić - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

In the last men's match we will be covering, Darko Jorgić faced Can Akkuzu, marking a well-known rivalry with an even 4-4 score in previous WTT events. Despite Darko's three recent wins against Akkuzu, he remained cautious, fully aware of Akkuzu's potential to pose a significant challenge on the table. Their balanced historical record set the stage for an intense and closely contested match.

Can Akkuzu demonstrated his competitive edge despite being significantly lower ranked than Darko Jorgić (#135 vs. #17). In the first set, both players engaged in a tactical battle over the short game, with Can successfully scoring numerous points with his flick attacks. Although both made several errors in serve receive, Can managed to edge out Darko, taking the set 11-9. His performance underlined his capability to challenge higher-ranked players.

In the second set, the match continued with minimal long exchanges, similar to the first. Darko Jorgić initially took a comfortable 10-7 lead, appearing poised to even the score. However, Can Akkuzu demonstrated resilience, fighting back to equalize at 10-10. The momentum shifted as Can continued to press, ultimately taking the set 15-13, showcasing his ability to perform under pressure and secure crucial points against a higher-ranked opponent.

Facing a tough road ahead and down two sets, Darko Jorgić appeared more relaxed in the third set, adjusting his demeanor which seemed to benefit his performance. This newfound composure translated into a strong start, as everything seemed to go his way. Highlighting his skill, Darko executed an impressive around-the-net shot effortlessly and quickly established a 7-1 lead, showcasing his potential to turn the match around when in form.

Darko Jorgić captured the third set decisively with an 11-6 score, shifting the pressure back onto Can Akkuzu to adapt and respond. In the fourth set, the match became more engaging for spectators as both players were willing to engage in longer rallies, increasing the intensity and display of skill on the court. This change in dynamics made for a more visually attractive and competitive match.

In a gripping turn of events, Darko Jorgić leveled the match at 2-2 after winning the fourth set 11-8, setting the stage for a tense deciding set. Can Akkuzu started strong, taking an early 6-3 lead. However, at 7-5 in favor of Can, Darko strategically introduced a new serve that baffled Can, earning him two crucial points to equalize. Can attempted a similar tactic but with less success. At a critical 9-8 lead for Darko, he missed his serve, bringing it to 9-9 with Can serving. Darko then secured a fortuitous point when his ball nicked the net but landed on the table, and he capitalized on the momentum to close out the match with an 11-9 win in the final set.

Women’s singles R64

The women's singles Round of 64 at Saudi Smash 2024 also featured compelling matches. We will be covering several intriguing contests: Wang Yidi faced Prithika Pavade, Natalia Bajor took on Bernadette Szocs, and Li Yu-Jhun competed against Giorgia Piccolin. Each of these matches highlighted the diverse talent pool and the intense competition in the women's circuit.

Wang Yidi vs. Prithika Pavade

Prithika Pavade - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

Wang Yidi, ranked #3, faced Prithika Pavade in a match crucial for her Olympic selection prospects. Although not the favorite for the Olympic team, Yidi has much to prove, especially given her past challenges in matches against non-Chinese players. This reflects the current dominance of China in table tennis, where even top players like Yidi face penalties in Olympic selection points for losses to international competitors. Her match against Pavade was an opportunity to assert her capability and address these challenges.

Wang Yidi's match against the young, #26 ranked Prithika Pavade started off promisingly, with Yidi quickly taking a 2-0 lead in sets. This solid performance against a ranked opponent was crucial for Yidi as she sought to reinforce her position in the fiercely competitive Olympic selection race. A strong win here could indeed revitalize her hopes and keep her relevant in the ongoing selection process.

Prithika Pavade adjusted her strategy, utilizing her topspin serve effectively to earn easy points and initiate longer rallies. This tactical shift proved beneficial as it allowed her to control the pace and flow of the game. Finding her rhythm in these extended exchanges, Prithika managed to outplay Yidi in the third set, securing it with a decisive 11-7 victory, showcasing her adaptability and resilience.

Continuing with her successful strategy, Prithika Pavade employed her topspin serve in the next set, actively seeking prolonged rallies to leverage her strengths. At a critical juncture, with the score at 9-7, Wang Yidi faltered, missing a crucial smash attack. This error proved costly. With the score at 10-8 and serving, Prithika capitalized on her momentum, securing the set with her effective topspin serve, evening the match and intensifying the competition.

The fifth set turned into a dramatic showcase of determination and skill from both players, with long, intense rallies defining the climax of the match. Prithika Pavade held a match point at 10-9 but was unable to close it out. Wang Yidi, demonstrating the resilience expected of the world's number 3, fought back under immense pressure to take the set 12-10. This narrow escape not only saved her match but also preserved her reputation, highlighting just how fiercely competitive the upper echelons of international table tennis can be.

Natalia Bajor vs. Bernadette Szocs

Bernadette Szocs - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

In a surprising turn of events in the Round of 64, Natalia Bajor, ranked #52, faced off against the much higher-ranked Bernadette Szocs, who stood at #9. Prior to this match, Szocs held a dominant 6-0 head-to-head record against Bajor, setting the stage for what seemed like another expected victory for Szocs. However, the unpredictability of sports often brings unexpected outcomes, making this matchup particularly intriguing.

Bernadette Szocs began the match in a commanding manner, taking an early advantage in long rallies and securing a swift 2-0 lead in sets. With a commanding 9-4 lead in the third set, it appeared that Szocs was on the verge of a straightforward victory. However, the adage "it's not over until it's over" rang true as Natalia Bajor displayed remarkable resilience. She dug deep, staging a remarkable comeback to snatch the third set 12-10, showcasing her tenacity and turning what seemed like a certain defeat into a potential turning point in the match.

After the pivotal third set, Natalia Bajor not only maintained her composure but also elevated her play, delivering an outstanding performance that captivated the audience. The subsequent sets featured top-tier women's table tennis, marked by powerful, fast-paced rallies and strategic placements. With a newfound edge over Bernadette Szocs, Natalia consistently outplayed her higher-ranked opponent, ultimately winning the next two sets. This incredible turnaround led to a stunning 3-2 victory, marking one of the most memorable upsets of the tournament.

Qian Tianyi vs. Xia Lian Ni

Qian Tianyi & Xia Lian Ni - WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Grand Slam

In the women's Round of 64, Qian Tianyi faced Xia Lian Ni, who is remarkable not only for being the oldest competitor on the circuit at 60 but also for her enduring skill and presence in the sport. Both left-handed players, they previously clashed in the semifinal at the WTT Feeder in Olomouc, Czech Republic, where Qian Tianyi emerged victorious with a 4-2 win.

Xia Lian Ni set a strong pace early on, capturing a 2-0 set lead against Qian Tianyi, who initially struggled to adjust to Ni’s pips-out rubber, which she uses on one side of her racket. Xia Lian Ni effectively employed a unique strategy involving her serve, where she starts with the red pips-out rubber and then twiddles her racket, adding an element of unpredictability. Additionally, her use of the penhold grip, which has become a rarity in top-level table tennis today, further distinguished her playstyle, showcasing her adaptability and deep understanding of the game's nuances.

In the subsequent set, Qian Tianyi began to alter the match's momentum, although she still appeared uncomfortable playing against Xia Lian Ni's distinctive style. This discomfort was evident as she missed some straightforward shots at critical moments. Despite these challenges, Tianyi managed to persevere and clinch the set, keeping herself in contention and setting the stage for a crucial fourth set, demonstrating her resilience and determination to adapt.

In the fourth set, the dynamic between Qian Tianyi and Xia Lian Ni continued much as before. Qian faced elimination once again when she trailed 9-10, with Xia Lian Ni on match point. However, Xia Lian Ni was unable to capitalize on this opportunity. Qian seized the moment to turn the tables, winning the set 12-10 and successfully staving off elimination for a second time, showcasing her tenacity under pressure.

In the decisive fifth set, Qian Tianyi gained a significant advantage mid-way through, establishing a firm lead. She managed to maintain this lead, demonstrating improved control and focus as the set progressed. At one point, Qian was ahead 8-3, and she successfully closed the set with a score of 11-7, completing a commendable comeback to win the match. Her ability to adapt and overcome the initial challenges posed by Xia Lian Ni's unique style was crucial to her victory in this critical round.

WTT Saudi Smash 2024 Round of 64 is now over

The opening round of the Saudi Smash 2024 delivered a thrilling display of skill and unexpected upsets. Players like Natalia Bajor and Nicholas Lum stood out by securing victories against higher-rated opponents, highlighting the unpredictable nature of competitive table tennis. These remarkable performances set the stage for an exciting Round of 32, keeping fans eagerly anticipating more surprises and top-tier gameplay as the tournament progresses.

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