13 Nov 2018

Play ready to start the 2018 ITTF Challenge Belgosstrakh Belarus Open in Minsk; it is the Under 21 Men’s Singles event which commences proceedings on the morning of Tuesday 13th November, the group stage, players whose immediate goal is to qualify for the main draw and thus join the 16 seeds.

Competing in the initial phase is one of the most successful players of all in the age group since the event was staged at the inaugural ITTF World Tour tournament in 1996 in England, the name is Japan’s Kohei Sambe.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Furthermore, he is a player who has a particular liking for Minsk.

Quite incredibly he has appeared in no less than nine ITTF World Tour Under 21 Men’s Singles finals, of those title deciding contests he has won four times. Notably two of those successes are in Minsk; he won in 2013 and retained the title the following year. Earlier in 2012 he had emerged successful in Croatia, before in 2015 succeeding in Belgium.

Meanwhile in 2014, he was the runner up in Australia and Chile, one year later in Spain, before in 2016 experiencing the same fate in Japan and earlier this year in the Korea Republic.

The only player who can beat his record of appearances in Under 21 Men’s Singles finals on the ITTF World Tour is the Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik; he completed ten excursions, five times the winner, five times the runner up.

In Belarus, Kohei Sambe appears in the same group as Poland’s Premyslaw Walaszek and China’s Li Haoze; the latter name may be new but player from that country have been known to cause upsets when having no international experience. Could that name spell danger?

Significantly, at a Challenge Series tournament, since 2017 when the concept ceased to be part of the ITTF World Tour, Kohei Sambe has been notable by his absence. However, on duty in Minsk there are players, also from Japan who have enjoyed Under 21 Men’s Singles success.

Earlier this year, Yuta Tanaka won in Thailand; Shunsuke Togami retained his title in Belgium. In Minsk Yuto Tanaka is the no.10 seed, Shunsuke Togami, the no.15 seed. Heading the list is Yuto Matsuyama, also from Japan who won in 2017 in Slovenia. He is followed by the host nation’s Aliaksandr Khanin, Poland’s Paytryk Zatowka and Germany’s Tobias Hippler. Notably, earlier this year Aliaksandr Khanin was the runner up in Croatia.

Meanwhile, in the Under 21 Women’s Singles event, similarly, Japan is to the fore. Miyuu Kihara is the top seed followed by colleague Satsuki Odo, Germany’s Wan Yuan and Poland’s Natalia Bajor.

Wan Yuan has yet to reach the latter stages of an Under 21 Women’s Singles event this year at an open international tournament. Conversely, Miyuu Kihara reached the quarter-finals in Slovenia, whilst Satsuki Odo was a semi-finalist in Thailand, the runner up in Croatia. Natalia Bajor’s best is a quarter-final appearance on home soil.

The initial stage of the Under 21 Women’s Singles event follows the conclusion of the opening series of matches in the Under 21 Men’s Singles competition.

Challenge Series 2018 Belarus Open Kohei Sambe

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Day 4 - 2018 ITTF Challenge Belarus Open