by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
At the final hurdle in the Portuguese capital city they beat the host nation’s Tiago Apolonia and João Monteiro to become the first ever Japanese partnership to lift the title.
In Doha they are the top seeds and one of two partnerships from the Land of the Rising Sun to be present in the Gulf state; the other partnership is that of Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura.
Furthermore, one wonders if they may meet again. On the 2016 ITTF World Tour, Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima secured two titles.
Notably they won in Poland, beating Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura in the final; in addition they succeeded in Germany when they recorded another win which could be more than relevant in Doha. In the title deciding contest, they accounted for Hong Kong’s Ho Kwan Kit and Tang Peng; the Hong Kong duo occupies the no.6 seeded position in Doha.
A place in the Men’s Doubles event in the Grand Finals, it is nothing new for Tang Peng; alongside Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima, he is the only previous winner on duty in Doha. In 2010 in Seoul he won in partnership with colleague Jiang Tianyi.
Meanwhile for Koki Niwa, the task is to climb one step higher; the final in Poland in partnership with Maharu Yoshimura was their second runners up finish of the year. One month earlier in March, they reached the final in Doha, losing to China’s Fan Zhendong and Zhang Jike.
Likewise, twice Koki Niwa has been the Men’s Doubles runner up at the Grand Finals. In 2014 in Bangkok, in harness with Kenta Matsudaira, it was defeat at the hands of Korea’s Cho Eonrae and Seo Hyundeok. Two years earlier when partnering Seiya Kishikawa in Hangzhou, Singapore’s Gao Ning and Li Hu had proved the nemesis.
Success for Korea in Bangkok, they also enjoyed success in Hainan in 2001 when Kim Taeksoo and Oh Sangeun prevailed. In 2016 the task of maintaining the country’s pride lies in the hands of Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu.
They are the no.2 seeds, their best of the year being in Croatia when they were beaten in the final by the combination of Germany’s Patrick Franziska and Denmark’s Jonathan Groth.
In Doha, alongside the Russian combination of Alexei Liventsov and Mikhail Paikov in addition to the Belgian partnership formed by Robin Devos and Cédric Nuytinck, they form the European challenge.
Creditably, Robin Devos and Cédric Nuytinck were the runners up in Hungary at the start of the year; even more creditably Alexei Liventsov and Mikhail Paikov won in both Bulgaria and Belgium.
All three pairs will be striving to emulate the efforts of Germany’s Timo Boll and Christian Süss, the only other European pairing to claim a Grand Finals Men’s Doubles title; they won in Fuzhou in 2005 and in Macao in 2009.
A second for the old continent and with Patrick Franziska and Jonathan Groth being the reigning European champions, could there be a first?
No pair with players from different national association has ever won the Grand Finals Men’s Doubles title.