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by Denzil Pinto
DOHA: China’s Ma Long triumphed at the Qatar Open 2013 Table Tennis Championships, but the Men’s world number three had to overcome the challenge of surprise finalist and compatriot Yan An.
Ranked 62 in the world, An, who had to endure two days of qualifying went down fighting in seven games.
Long registered a 4-3 victory (11-9, 11-3, 10-12, 10-12, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9) to clinch the 14th title of his career on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) tour.
Earlier, in the Women’s Singles category, world number one Ning Ding eased past second seed Shiwen Liu in five games to regain the title she had won in 2011.
China’s Ding, who had earlier clinched the Women’s Doubles title with Liu, won 11-9, 11-13, 11-8, 11-5, 11-7.
In what the most entertaining final of the day, An took a 3-1 lead early in the first game.
An, who defeated world number four Wang Hao in the earlier semi-final, showed no signs of nerves in the early parts of the game.
After a slow start, Long, who defeated defending champion Xu Xin in the semi-finals, took the upper hand leading 8-6.
In a game that had a lot of rallies, An was on the defensive but still managed to bring the score at 9-9. With Long leading 10-9, An’s error gave the third seed the first game 11-9.
An, who was quick to respond to Hao’s attacking play in the semi-final, was unable to react quickly enough to Long’s shots.
With Long leading 7-2, An twice gifted his opponent two points at 9-3. Long began to get his rhythm into the game, dictating play which pushed An deep behind the table. It was not long before Long grabbed the second game 11-3.
After losing the first point in the third game, Long took control to win four consecutive points. The attacking abilities of An was being dealt with camly by Long, who was playing in his 22nd ITTF World Tour final.
An battled back at 5-all in what proved to be a closely-fought game.
Long had a two point cushion at 9-7. An rallied and saved a game point which received a loud cheer by the spectators. Leading 11-10, the qualifier clinched the third game 12-10. The Chinese duo cancelled each other out early in the fourth game.
Leading 6-4, An made good use of his attacking abilities to increase his tally to 8-5. An then clinched the game despite Long levelling the score at 9-9.
With An clinching the fifth game 11-9, Long put his opponent under pressure. The 24-year-old soon had a four point cushion at 8-4. Long took advantage of a time-out call and made sure the final would go into the decider.
With both players one game away from winning the title, it was no surprise that the decider was closely-contested. With the score at 8-8, another error by An gifted Long a match point.
After thrilling the spectators by saving a match point, he could not repeat the heroics on the second attempt when his return missed the table. The winning match point was received with a huge roar from Long who fisted his left hand in delight.
Elsewhere, in the Women’s final, after losing the first game, Liu did not lose her concentration and established a 10-7 lead. However, Liu allowed Ding back into the game at 10-all and was nearly made to pay for her mistakes. Yet, the 21-year-old kept her composure and sealed the second game 13-11.
Despite the second game setback, Ding continued to be dominant, showing the good form that got her in the final. Despite a brief battle from Liu, the top seed claimed the game 11-8 to establish the lead.
From then on, Liu provided no real threat, with Ding leading 8-1 in the fifth game. Despite Liu reducing the deficit to 6-8, Ding comfortably beat her compatriot, in what was her first victory over the Chinese in five attempts.