The 2018 Qatar Open was played this past weekend and it was the breakthrough tournament for Brazil’s Hugo Calderano. He was won many competitions in Pan America, had a great run to the final 16 in front of his raucous home crowd at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and has challenged many of the world’s best players. However, he has has never had a tournament quite like the Qatar Open this past weekend. He easily defeated then-World #1 Timo Boll 4-1, Japanese teen sensation Tomokazu Harimoto 4-0, and current China #2 Lin Gaoyuan 4-0. He then had big leads of 8-2 and 9-4 in the first game and 9-5 in the second against current World #1 Fan Zhendong of China before losing 4-0 in the men’s final.
Calderano always had a great backhand but this time played his forehand with more force than I have ever seen. His forehand is still his weaker wing by his standards but he was making much more powerful shots with the forehand than I have seen in his past matches. His backhand is very strong in banana, counterloop from mid-distance, and opening loop but seems to sometimes play erratic when players loop to his backhand when he’s close to the table. Many players now counterloop with the backhand from away from the table but Calderano makes the best backhand counterloops among world-class players in my opinion as he often makes them when seeemingly reaching and out of position. He had some trouble with long and half-long serves as players looking to banana sometimes do. I would say Calderano’s forehand, middle, and backhand close to the table when looped to are up and down.
There has never been a top Brazilian player who can challenge the top Chinese since there was a kid named “Biriba” who beat Chinese World Champions in some matches while only 12 or 13 in the early 1960s. He would soon quit playing soon after so many do not know about him but he was as good as any top male in his time at a much younger age. Could he have been the most talented player of all-time and no one knows about him?
In the women’s competition, China dominated as they have been for a long time. Liu Shiwen was down 2-0 in games and 6-2 in the 3rd game before storming back to win the women’s final 4-2 against compatriot Wang Manyu. After down 2-0 in games and 6-2 in the third game, Liu Shiwen then started pounding Wang Manyu’s wide forehand and that changed the match. Liu Shiwen basically won twice as many points as Wang after that point in the match and dominated. Wang also had trouble with long, topspin serves to the middle and backhand balls after the wide forehand. Wang seemed to use her banana on the serve receive nearly every time and seems to be one of the most naturally athletic women’s players I have seen. She has a very strong backhand and a natural turn on the middle as many natural athletes do. For her level, she seems to be weaker on the wide forehand.
I have found in coaching players, players who are natural athletes normally have less trouble on the middle ball compared to the wide forehand ball. Players who are not natural athletes or not flexible seem to have more trouble on the middle ball. I was coaching one naturally athletic junior who nearly made the US team for his age and he had a big weakness on the wide forehand. After a lot of practice and lessons focusing on that ball, players had a really hard time playing him when he didn’t have trouble on that ball. One of my top students currently is not a natural athlete and has trouble on the middle ball but after more practice on that ball, players have a harder time playing him when he can manage that ball.