by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
It will be the 26 year olds fourth consecutive appearance in the tournament, a first round Men’s Singles exit in 2014 and 2015 but notably last year he reached the quarter-final stage.
Undoubtedly reaching the last eight in such prestigious company was a notable achievement, the goal this year is to climb one step higher and secure a finish which no player from Hong Kong has ever achieved.
Similar to Wong Chun Ting, Ko Lai Chak reached the quarter-finals in 2005 in Fuzhou, Tang Peng in 2010 in Seoul. However, Leung Chu Yan and Li Ching, each making two appearances never ventured beyond the opening round, whilst on the one occasion when qualifying, it was a first round exit for Cheung Yuk and Jiang Tianyi.
You never know but the signs of a last four place do not look bright for the Hong Kong pen-holder. Last year he was steaming, prior to the Grand Finals, he had won the Men’s Singles title at the Czech Open, he had finished in a highly creditable third place in the Asian Cup.
Conversely this year, he experienced defeat after defeat at the Asian Cup in Ahmedabad and did not reach the latter stages, whilst on the Seamaster 217 ITTF World Tour he has not repeated the success of last year. At the recent Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open, he departed in the opening round beaten by Nigeria’s in-form Quadri Aruna.
Perhaps the best hope for a podium finish is to be found in the Men’s Doubles event where he partners Ho Kwan Kit; furthermore, history points in that direction.
Notably in 2001 in Hainan and 2003 in Guangzhou, Cheung Yuk and Leung Chu Yan were the runners up, having in the intervening year in Stockholm been the semi-finalists.
Meanwhile, in the four year period between 2004 in Beijing and 2008 when the tournament was also staged in Beijing, on each occasion Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching reached the semi-finals.
Equally both Ho Kwan Kit and Wong Chung Ting have progressed to the penultimate round in the Men’s Doubles event; in each occasion partnering Tang Peng, Wong Chun Ting was a semi-finalist in 2014 in Bangkok, Ho Kwan Kit, last year in Doha.
Now together can Ho Kwan Kit and Wong Chung Ting ascend even higher and replicate the efforts of Tang Peng and Jiang Tianyi at the Korea Air 2010 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Seoul when they struck gold?
A tough task but in Astana, it is the best chance for Hong Kong.