by Simon Daish
Required to negotiate the two-day qualification tournament, Mu Zi is now preparing for a tricky start to her main draw campaign: the unseeded Chinese competitor has been handed an opening round tie with No.7 seed Feng Tianwei in their first duel on the international stage since the Qoros 2015 World Championships – Mu Zi prevailed on that occasion but will Feng Tianwei gain the upper hand this time around?
Miu Hirano is looking to bounce back quickly after suffering an early exit at the recent China Open in Shenzhen but her task ahead may not be so simple. The Japanese star faces Portugal’s Fu Yu, a player who specialises in the art of the pen-hold grip and is not to be underestimated.
Elsewhere, ninth seed Doo Hoi Kem faces Europe Top 16 Cup Champion Bernadette Szocs in their first head-to-head encounter on the ITTF World Tour stage since 2015 and top seed Kasumi Ishikawa opens her campaign against Kim Hayeong, who qualified for the main event thanks to a surprise victory over Yang Haeun.
The highest seeded Japanese player in the Men’s Singles draw, but Koki Niwa has been handed a tough start in Kitakyushu with Kazuhiro Yoshimura standing in his way. While one of these stars will move through, the other will fall – regardless of the final result this is bound to be a match of mixed emotions for the home crowd and should provide plenty of drama.
Not since the 2017 edition of the Qatar Open has Zhang Jike successfully progressed beyond the opening round of an ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles tournament. Jonathan Groth provides the opposition at the first hurdle in Kitakyushu – the Dane may hold the higher ranking position but Zhang Jike will be keen to experience a better outing than the opening round exit he endured recently in Shenzhen.
Germany’s Timo Boll begins his Japan Open campaign opposing young Japanese star Yuta Tanaka while seventh seed Simon Gauzy takes on Jeoung Youngsik with the two having met recently at the Liebherr 2018 World Team Championships.