by Simon Daish
All Six of the players listed below have appeared at previous Grand Finals tournaments, and they will head into the 2016 competition with great optimism.
Ma Long (China)
Where else to start than with the defending Grand Finals Men’s Singles champion Ma Long, who will head into the competition off the back of his successful campaign at the Rio Olympic Games.
Ma first appearance in the Senior categories at a Grand Finals was the 2006 competition where he partnered up with Hao Shuai to win the Men’s Doubles gold. Since winning his first Men’s Singes trophy in 2008, Ma has gone on to win the category three more times (2009, 2011, 2015).
2015’s final saw Ma Long edge out Fan Zhendong in a tight encounter, and Ma will be hoping to win back-to-back Grand Finals Men’s Singles titles for the second time in his career.
Zhang Jike (China)
The Rio 2016 Men’s Singles silver medallist has also booked his place for the end of year tournament, with Zhang Jike registering enough World Tour points to guarantee a top 16 finish.
Zhang has never won the Men’s Singles gold with a personal best finish of second place at the 2011 rendition of the Grand Finals in London, but he did win silverware the very same year in the Men’s Doubles category with Ma Lin.
The former Olympic champion has won World Championships and World Cups; will Zhang Jike add a Grand Finals Men’s Singles award to his list come December 11th 2016?
Jun Mizutani (Japan)
Two time Grand Finals winner Jun Mizutani has also qualified for the event in Doha, and may be considered by some as a dark horse contender for the 2016 title.
Mizutani picked up both of his Men’s Singles golds by defeating German players in the finals, with Patrick Baum and Dimitrij Ovtcharov the victims at the 2010 and 2014 competitions.
The Japanese star has begun to pick up some decent form in recent months, and a successful Olympic campaign (silver medal in the Men’s Team and bronze in the Men’s Singles) won’t do his confidence any harm.
Chuang Chih-Yuan (Chinese Taipei)
14 years back a Table Tennis player from Chinese Taipei triumphed in the Men’s Singles of the Grand Finals, his name? Chuang Chih-Yuan.
Chuang will compete in the competition for the 15th time and will be aiming to surpass the quarter-finals stage in 2016, the round that he has exited at in the previous two Grand Final tournaments.
Aged 35, can Chuang Chih-Yuan do the unthinkable and grab his second cup?
Kasumi Ishikawa (Japan)
The 2014 Women’s Singles prize fell to Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa following a 4-0 clean sweep victory over Suh Hyowon (Korea Republic).
Alongside the success in 2014, Ishikawa also claimed the silver medal at the 2011 Grand Finals in the Women’s Doubles with compatriot Ai Fukuhara.
Often regarded as one of the strongest players in the world, Ishikawa has to be considered as a realistic challenger for glory in Doha. But with more players yet to qualify, Ishikawa could face some very difficult opposition standing in her way.
Fang Tianwei (Singapore)
Feng Tianwei is the only other competitor who has sealed a spot in the Women’s Singles category, and the world number five will have high expectations for the 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.
The player from Singapore stood victorious against Seok Hajung in 2010, and has reached the last four stage on three occasions (2008, 2009, 2012). Feng was also a winner in the Women’s Doubles tournament alongside Yu Mengyu in the 2011 event.
After a disappointing campaign with her international teammates at Rio 2016, Feng Tianwei knows success at the Grand Finals could restore Singapore’s confidence in her abilities.