13 Nov 2018

Qualified for the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals to be staged next month in Incheon; Japan’s Saki Shibata, even though the second seed, starts as favourite for the Women’s Singles title at the forthcoming 2018 ITTF Challenge Belgosstrakh Belarus Open.

Play commences in Minsk on Tuesday 13th November with a two day qualification tournament.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Canada’s Zhang Mo is the top seed and this year she has enjoyed success. In April she finished in an agonizing fourth position in the Women’s Singles event at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, just one place short of a precious medal. However, later in the year in July it was first place in the Paraguayan capital city of Asuncion; she won the ITTF Pan American Cup and thus qualified for the Uncle Pop 2018 ITTF Women’s World Cup.

A most creditable record but it is surpassed by that of Saki Shibata. She has emerged successful on three occasions at ITTF Challenge Series tournaments. She won in Croatia and Spain, before completing a successful title defence in Belgium. Add the fact that on the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour, she won the Under 21 Women’s Singles title in Germany, before in both China and the Czech Republic reaching the Women’s Singles semi-finals; it is a most imposing record.

The rate of success is more than one step ahead of her nearest rivals in Minsk; however, in the chasing pack, the name to note is that of her colleague, Miyu Kato. The no.4 seed, earlier this year she won the Women’s Singles title in Slovenia. In Minsk she is listed one place behind Chinese Taipei’s Chen Szu-Yu, her most notable effort this year being seventh position at the Asian Cup in Yokohama.

Completing the top eight names, all are players who have enjoyed a degree of success this year but without hitting the headlines. Also from Japan, Minami Ando is the no.5 seed; she ended 2017 by winning the Finlandia Open, before this year being a semi-finalist in Slovenia.

It is little different for the next three names. Russia’s Polina Mikhailova, the winner in Minsk in 2012, was a quarter-finalist in Croatia, losing to next in the order of merit, Luxembourg’s Ni Xialian. A semi-final finish was the end result for the now 55 year old Ni Xialian, a player who was winning major titles before Japan’s Satzuki Odo, the no.8 seed, was born.

Only 14 years old, at the recent 2010 Hungarian Junior and Cadet Open, she was the Cadet Girls’ Singles runner up. Additionally at the 2018 ITTF Challenge Series Slovenia Open, she reached the quarter-final stage of the Women’s Singles event.

Satsuki Odo, very much a name to note; it is the same in the Women’s Doubles event where she partners the most prominent name. She joins forces with Saki Shibata. They are the no.2 seeds; the combination of Slovakia’s Barbora Balazova and the Czech Republic’s Hana Matelova, the runners up earlier this year in Poland, occupy the top seeded position.

Challenge Series 2018 Belarus Open Saki Shibata

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Day 4 - 2018 ITTF Challenge Belarus Open