by Ian Marshall, Editor
Top seed, the ranking implies Saki Shibata is the favourite for gold, the results gained this year indelibly support that fact.
At ITTF Challenge Series tournaments, she has secured two Women’s Singles titles and has been the Under 21 Women’s Singles champion of four occasions. In Spain and in Croatia she completed the double, winning both events; in the Czech Republic and Thailand, she was prevailed at Under 21 level.
Furthermore, on the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour, she added to the Under 21 title by succeeding in the German city of Bremen. No player can compare this year with her quite amazing rate of success. It is one which Georgina Pota must envy; her best this year is a semi-final exit at the 2018 ITTF Challenge Spanish Open.
Likewise, it is not too dissimilar for the other leading names on Women’s Singles duty in De Haan; the one player of note with titles to her name this year is Egypt’s Dina Meshref. In early March she won the ITTF Africa Cup in Nairobi, in late June she emerged successful at the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona.
In De Haan, she is the no.7 seed, one place ahead of Britt Eerland of the Netherlands who completes the top eight names; on the international scene this year, she has yet to shine. It is very much the same for Sweden’s Matilda Ekholm, the no.2 seed, her best is fourth place at the ITTF Europe Top 16 Cup held in early February.
However, for the remaining leading names on duty, whilst no-one can match Saki Shibata, colleagues Honoka Hashimoto and Miyu Nagasaki, alongside Luxembourg’s venerable Ni Xia Lian, the winner on the ITTF World Tour two decades ago in 1998 in the United States, have reached the latter stages this year on the international scene.
Honoka Hashimoto was the runner up at the ITTF Challenge Series tournaments in both Thailand and Poland; only 16 years old, Miyu Nagasaki was the Under 21 Women’s Singles silver medallist in Slovenia. Meanwhile, Ni Xia Lian, just one year short of 40 years the senior of Miyu Nagasaki, reached the penultimate round in Croatia.
Candidates for gold but beware the attacking skills of the no.22 seed from Monaco. Long pimpled rubber on the backhand, it is a style not witnessed on the international scene in the current era; Yang Xiaoxin, the winner on the ITTF World Tour in 2014 in Croatia and in 2016 in the Czech Republic, could well influence the outcome.