by Ian Marshall, Editor
Gone are the days of Tan Ruiwu and Roko Tosic at international level, their performance seven years ago being the only occasion when two Croatians have faced each other in a men’s singles final at an open international tournament since the ITTF World Tour began in Kettering on Wednesday 3rd April 1996.
Now very much the mantle rests on the shoulders of Andrej Gacina, Frane Kojic, Tomislav Pucar and Wei Shihao.
Unquestionably the man in form is Wei Shihao, having one day ago won the men’s singles title in Slovenia; for Andrej Gacina, problems with injuries, it is the very opposite. He needs to find the form that took him to no.18 on the world rankings in February 2016.
Currently he appears at no.95 in the order of merit, having not had the best of starts to the year. On the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour, he departed in the third preliminary round in Hungary, followed by opening round exits in Qatar and at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships. However, to his defence, in the three tournaments, he has suffered at the hands of most worthy players, in respective order, Slovakia’s Wang Yang, Japan’s Jun Mizutani and Germany’s Timo Boll.
Two ends of the scale, somewhere in the middle we find Tomislav Pucar and Frane Kojic.
In March, Tomislav Pucar excelled to reach the semi-final stage of the men’s singles event in Oman; in April he shone again, he progressed to the fourth round in Budapest at the Liehberr 2019 World Championships. However, in May there have been earlier than anticipated exits. The no.2 seed at the Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Serbia Open, he departed in round three; last week in Slovenia, the no.8 seed, he bid farewell in the same round.
Can Tomislav Pucar rekindle the form of late April in Budapest? Equally can Frane Kojic find Belgrade form? Recently in Slovenia, he fell at the first hurdle but in Serbia, the previous week, he was the most successful Croatian. He reached the quarter-final.
At the Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Croatia Open, Tomislav Pucar leads the Croatia line, he is the no.9 seed, Andrej Gacina is the no.16 seed, Frane Kojic the no.27 seed and for man in form, there is no spot amongst the elite names.
Wei Shihao starts his journey in the qualification tournament, just as in Slovenia; qualifiers have won in the past but never in consecutive tournaments; a first or may his colleagues have other ideas?