Ding Ning – Miu Hirano: beating China, beating the odds

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 she is the first non-Chinese champion since 1996, but she beat World’s 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 winning strategy and showing some numbers that explain this major upset.

The odds power

Miu Hirano, gold medal
Miu Hirano, gold medal at the 2017 Asian Championships. Photo: ITTF

Miu Hirano is, as of April 2017, the World’s 11th ranked player. As we analyzed in our previous article about the World Ranking, the highest 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 priviliged position for 42 months in her career since November 2011.

Previous records between these two players were not promising either. ITTF World Tour has seen Miu Hirano and Ding Ning playing 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, specially in this kind of important competitions. Nowadays, Miu Hirano is only 17 years old, while Ding Ning is 27.

The match

Quarter-Finals of the Asian Championships. Best of five, a medal on stake and Ding Ning seemed to be going to have one more day at the office.

First set: 11-3 for Ding Ning. In the second, 9-6 for Ding Ning, but a sudden comeback by Hirano made the Chinese stop for a timeout and reached the deuce several times (10-10, 11-11, 12-12). However, Ding Ning got that set too, and led 2-0.

Ding Ning during her Quarter-Finals match. Photo: ITTF

The third set started in a different fashion, with Hirano having one or two points of  advantage all the time. Well resolved by her, 9-11, and 2-1 in the scoreboard.

Fourth set changed the tendency 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 when 8-10 on the scoreboard. Ding Ning made her experience prevail, and saved both of them, which ensured a thrilling end. Nonetheless, 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 explain 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 now 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 shows one of the facts of the match: Miu Hirano played in a more aggressive way, and it ended up being worthy.

However, the first two sets were won by Ding Ning. Was there any aspect of the game that changed after the second set?


As it can be observed, the rally length tended to slightly increase as the match went by. However, long rallies were equally won by both players. The following table shows the fifteen longest rallies of the match:

Rally length Winner
17 Miu Hirano
13 Ding Ning
13 Miu Hirano
11 Ding Ning
10 Miu Hirano
10 Ding Ning
10 Miu Hirano
9 Ding Ning
9 Miu Hirano
9 Miu Hirano
9 Ding Ning
9 Ding Ning
9 Miu Hirano
9 Miu Hirano
9 Ding Ning

As proved, the rally length did not specially play in favour of any of the players.

Let’s take a look now at different insights into the kind of strokes. First, a comparison of the amount of times each player made each stroke:


There are major differences between the playing style of Ding Ning and Miu Hirano. The Chinese had a more equal distribution of kind of strokes. However, 70 % of them correspond to the backhand.

Miu Hirano had approximately 80 % of her shots being forehand and backhand topspins, which denotes her already mentioned aggresiveness. Moreover, 60% of her shots were with the forehand side of the racket.

Apart from that, Hirano did not use the backhand flick, while 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 amount of winners and mistakes classified by kind of shot:



Some interesting facts are revealed, which are exemplified in the following videos:

  • Ding Ning had a terrible day with her forehand topspin. He did that stroke 48 times, having 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 much 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 targetted the Japanese backhand side.
  • Miu Hirano avoided Ding Ning’s forehand, and the majority of her serves were either short or deep on the Chinese’s backhand. This strategy forced Ding Ning to attack the second ball, which eased a countertopspin 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 her the chance to take the initiative of the game. Meanwhile, the Chinese 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.

Now what?

Miu Hirano is, with no doubt, a rising star. Her latest results will for sure put pressure on her coming appearances. Without going any further, she just lost against Kasumi Ishikawa, 4-0, in the Korean Open, having a quite poor performance.

She will be soon compete in the 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf, which will become a tough test for her. Will she be able to repeat such a success and beat Ding Ning or any other Chinese player? Everything seems to be possible from now on.


  1. Can we put this on our website and link back to yours?

    Matthew Pound
    Head of Communications

    Marketing & Asia Pacific Headquarters
    a: 301 Lor 6 Toa Payoh #01-01 Singapore 319392
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    From: ZoomTT
    Reply-To: ZoomTT
    Date: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 04:37
    To: Matt Pound
    Subject: [New post] Ding Ning – Miu Hirano: beating China, beating the odds

    ZoomTT posted: “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 she “


    1. There has been much conversation about this recently.. it seems some players are annoyed with the difference of reliablity of each kind of ball, not with the plastic ball itself, which is something already assumed. These issues should disappear at some point if manufacturers reach higher quality standards.


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