by Simon Daish
Feng Tianwei is set to become the first female player to appear at an ITTF World Tour Grand Finals on 11 occasions but the Singapore star will have to be at her best right from the get go in Astana after receiving an opening round encounter with Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching.
Another duel to keep an eye on in the top half of the draw sees Japan’s Miu Hirano do battle with China’s Gu Yuting. The previous meeting between the two came earlier in the year at the 2017 Australian Open: Gu Yuting prevailed on that occasion. Can she pull off the same outcome in Astana?
There is a mouthwatering fixture waiting in the pipeline at the bottom of the draw, with a potential quarter-finals tie between Wang Manyu and Zhu Yuling on the cards. First up though, the Chinese stars will have to negotiate Japanese opposition on day two of the competition with Hitomi Sato and Hina Hayata providing the opposition in the Round of 16.
Over in the Men’s Singles draw, all eyes will be on Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the opening round to see whether the German player can book his place right at the summit of the world rankings when he takes on Koki Niwa.
However, that match is reserved for the second day of play in Astana so instead the focus turns to the other contender to become World no.1 is Fan Zhendong. The 20-year-old star begins his campaign with a tricky match against Chuang Chih-Yuan of Chinese Taipei.
Timo Boll features in action on day one of the Men’s Singles draw with the German competitor facing Japan’s Yuya Oshima in the last 16 while pen-hold specialist Xu Xin meets Kenta Matsudaira.
Jin Ueda and Maharu Yoshimura have enjoyed a strong year as a pairing with two Men’s Doubles trophies and a silver medal finish on the 2017 ITTF World Tour.
Competing alongside one another in Astana as the top seeded partnership, the Japanese duo will look to state their title ambitions with a positive outing against Belgium’s Robin Devos and Cedric Nuytinck in the opening round of the Men’s Doubles competition.
Fourth seeds Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching will begin their Women’s Doubles campaign against the team seeded one position lower: Chen Szu-Yu and Cheng I-Ching, while the powerful Chinese combination of Chen Meng and Zhu Yuling meet Hong Kong’s Ng Wing Nam and Soo Wai Nam Minnie.