04 Feb 2017

Just one day remains until the 2017 ITTF Europe Top 16 Cup begins in Antibes, and the draw for the eight groups across the Men's and Women's Singles events has been made.

Europe's finest table tennis players will go head-to-head in the Azur Arena from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th February, and for one of the home nation's competitors Emmanuel Lebesson a difficult start awaits.

by Simon Daish

Lebesson, who won the Men’s Singles gold medal at the Liebherr 2016 European Championships has been drawn into Group B for the 2017 Europe Top 16 with the no.2 seed Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, Portugal’s Tiago Apolonia and Ukrainian opponent Kou Lei.

Despite the difficult group stage draw the 28-year-old French player heads into Friday’s action aiming to prolong his involvement at the competition.

“We knew before the tournament that it was going to be a tough group, because only good players will be here. But I will try tomorrow to do the best that I can. I play all the time against these types of players and I will see how I go. I am not the favourite but I will try”, Emmanuel Lebesson.

The other French representative in the Men’s Singles category is Simon Gauzy who has been named in Dimitrij Ovtcharov’s group at the tournament for the third successive year, while the runner up of the 2016 Europe Top 16 event Joao Monteiro of Portugal and Danish player Jonathan Groth have also been selected in the group.

Timo Boll enters the 2017 ITTF Europe Top 16 Cup as one of the favourites to compete for the title in the Azur Arena, having claimed five titles at the tournament in previous years. The third seed from Germany, however, has not participated at the event since its expansion from 12 to 16 players in 2015 and is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for him in Antibes.

“I know Stefan Fegerl and Panagiotis Gionis are very good, Stefan is my teammate and Panagiotis played in my team for a few years but Mattias Karlsson is the big question for me I’ve never played him and he has an unusual style so this will be quite challenging already in the first game”, Timo Boll.

Group D is another unpredictable match up after the 2014 Europe Top 12 winner Marcos Freitas was placed alongside Kristian Karlsson, Andrej Gacina and Alexander Shibaev.

Earlier in the day some unfortunate news came for the Women’s Singles tournament, after it was confirmed that Kristin Silbereisen had withdrawn from the event due to illness.

Silbereisen was set to appear at the competition for the fourth occasion, but has instead been replaced by Barbora Balazova of the Slovak Republic who makes her debut at the Europe Top 16 in the town on the French Riviera.

Balazova, listed at no.77 in February’s ITTF World Rankings table, faces a stern challenge in Group B where she will take on the second seed Liu Jia of Austria, Germany’s Sabine Winter and Polina Mikhailova of Russia.

Turkey’s Hu Melek enjoyed a strong campaign in 2016 with her second place finish achieved at the Europe Top 16 in Gondomar, Portugal and her capture of the Liebherr 2016 European Championships Women’s Singles crown in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

Seeded first for the Women’s Singles event in Antibes, Hu Melek has been drawn in Group A and will have to negotiate Georgina Pota, Daniela Monteiro Dodean and Sofia Polcanova to book her spot in the next round of play.

Two more groups will be contested in the Women’s Singles draw: Petrissa Solja will be hoping to hold off Matilda Ekholm, Tetyana Bilenko and Stephanie Loeuillette in Group C, while Group D consists of Li Jie, Li Qian, Viktoria Pavlovich and Bernadette Szocs.

The 2017 ITTF Europe Top 16 Cup group stage matches will take place on Friday 3rd February.

 Practice Day: 2017 ITTF-Europe Top 16 Cup
Photos: Rémy Gros

Europe Top 16 Timo Boll Emmanuel Lebesson Barbora Balazova

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