Xu Xin – Muramatsu: mastering the defenders

The Seamaster Qatar 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals offered us the chance to enjoy an amazing tournament. Nine out of the ten top-ranked players in the world competed for the crown of the best circuit player of the year, with Zhang Jike being the only major withdrawal.

One of the biggest upsets took place on the very first day, when the young Japanese defender, Yuto Muramatsu, defeated 40-year-old veteran Vladimir Samsonov to book his slot in the quarter-finals. Not a promising future for him, though, as China’s Xu Xin was waiting to fight him for a semi-final spot.

Let’s see now how the match developed.

The match

All top defenders, like Joo Saehyuk or Chen Weixing, have suffered Muramatsu’s fate in the past, so the star from the land of the rising sun was going to be no exception. Xu Xin developed a devastating gameplay against his opponent to record a 4-0 (11-2, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4) in less than 20 minutes.

Some stats on the match:

match_stats.png

The most remarkable thing about the match are the long winning streaks that the Chinese player achieved:

  • 1st set:   from 0-0 to 10-0, 10 points in a row
  • 2nd set: from 3-6 to 11-6, 8 points in a row
  • 3rd set:  from 2-4 to 10-4, 8 points in a row
  • 4th set:  from 0-0 to 5-0, 5 points in a row

What makes it so easy for Xu Xin to master defenders? How is it possible for him to have such consistency?

Xu Xin against defenders

Defenders have strong consistency. They are used to long rallies, where they usually chop the ball far from the table. Yuto Muramatsu has quite a classic defender style: he chops the ball on both his backhand and forehand, although he sometimes performs attacks on drop shots and lobs low balls far from the table using the forehand.

That last aspect of Muramatsu’s style is what makes defenders so disruptive, as it forces the attacker to decide not to return easy high balls which could be topspinned. However, nothing really works against Xu Xin. How does the Chinese player fight a defender’s consistency and his surprise shots?

Analyzing how Xu Xin won the 44 points that account for his victory, we have:

19 chopping mistakes by Muramatsu

More than half of the points won by Xu Xin come from Muramatsu’s mistakes chopping far from the table – 14 backhand and 5 forehand failed shots. The reason behind it is easy to notice after watching the following video:

Xu Xin’s consistency and variation of spin make it very difficult for the Japanese defender to chop. The first ball is usually slow and very spinny. However, he sometimes performs quick and strong topspins that prevent Muramatsu from positioning properly, therefore failing to return them. Even when Muramatsu is where he is supposed to be, spinny balls produce quite high chops which sometimes don’t hit the table or they allow the Chinese player to easily finish the point.

10 forehand topspin winners by Xu Xin

As we explained in the previous section, forehand topspin winners are quite common in Xu Xin’s games against defenders. His topspin is so spinny that chopped balls don’t cause him any trouble. His technique is quite unique in this sense, as he has a very long movement from he starts the forehand until he hits the ball, generating great acceleration and consequently more spin than usual. The following video shows these facts:

9 topspin mistakes by Muramatsu

Because of a lack of control in the game’s development, Muramatsu tried several ways to try to disrupt the Chinese player. However, attacking and counter-attacking did not serve him well. Let’s see a couple of examples:

6 different kinds of mistakes by Muramatsu

Two unreturned serves, two serve faults, one failed lob and one drop shot account for the rest of the points won by Xu Xin.

So easy… isn’t it?

Xu Xin is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world. This fact can make regular people believe that it is impossible to achieve such a level against defenders. And it probably is. However, some tips can help us to dramatically improve our performance:

  • Use as much spin variation as possible: this will prevent the defender getting used to your attacking shots and will cause him trouble when chopping.
  • Do not take big risks often when attacking, try to reduce your failure rate.
  • Try to hit fast third balls that make it impossible for the defender to position accordingly to chop far enough from the table.
  • Adapt your forehand topspin technique to hit the ball with more acceleration if needed.

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