by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Success for Ricardo Walther and Panagiotis Gionis of Greece, the only players on duty in Zagreb who are previous winners in Croatia.
Furthermore, only one occasion since joining the ITTF World Tour in 1998 has a Croatian had won the tournament’s Men’s Singles title; in 2012 Tan Ruiwi beat colleague Roko Tosic to reserve the top step of the podium. One year later Roko Tosic was beaten in the final in 2013 by Frenchman Abdel-Kader Salifou, whilst in 2015 in the title decider, Tan Ruiwi had lost to Japan’s Maharu Yoshimura.
Overall they are two of only three Croatians to have reached such a final, the only other is Zoran Primorac; all three now retired from international duty.
In 2018 the player to head the Croatian challenge is Andrej Gacina, in Zagreb he is the no.4 seed behind Ricardo Walther, Germany’s Benedikt Duda and Frenchman Tristan Flore. Surely he is overdue a Men’s Singles podium finish at an open international tournament?
Alongside, Portugal’s Marcos Freitas he has enjoyed success on the ITTF World Tour in Men’s Doubles events but has yet to really shine when alone. Notably in 2010 the pair won in Poland and in Qatar in 2015; in Men’s Singles events, for whatever strange reason he has yet to gain a semi-final place.
Can this year’s Croatian Open provide a milestone moment for the 31 year old? It did for Ricardo Walther and Panagiotis Gionis.
It is somewhat a similar situation for other leading names on duty, Japan’s Yuto Kizukuri is the no.5 seed, is seek in next step. He is an exciting young player with the demeanour of compatriot Koki Niwa, he is also the top seed in the Under 21 Men’s Singles event ahead of Austria’s Andreas Levenko, Romania’s Cristian Pletea and Hungary’s Bence Majoros.
Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic and Kanak Jha of the United States complete the top eight Men’s Singles names.
Seeking a first title, it is very much the same in the Men’s Doubles competition. Runners up last year in Slovenia, Nandor Ecseki and Adam Szudi head the seeding; next in line is the partnership of Benedikt Duda and Ricardo Walther with Belgium’s Martin Allegro and Florent Lambiet being the no.3 seeds. Chile’s Gustavo Gomez and Juan Lamadrid complete the top four pairs.