14 May 2019

One year ago she was listed at no.24 on the world rankings, she is now named at no.13; the facts underline the progress of Japan’s Saki Shibata; she defends her women’s singles title at the forthcoming Seamaster 2019 ITTF Challenge Croatia Open.

Qualification commences in Zagreb on Tuesday 14th May, the main event on Thursday 16th May.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

The quiet but most determined 21 year old is one of four former winners of the Zagreb title on duty; when a member of the ITTF World Tour, Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin won in 2014, more recently Hitomi Sato succeeded in 2016. Success for Hitomi Sato sparked a run of success for Japan; in 2017 when the Challenge Series became a separate entity, the title was won by Honoka Hashimoto.

Furthermore, in the two most recent editions of the tournament, the players who finished in runners up spots are also in action this year; beaten by Honoka Hashimoto two years ago, the name of Austria’s Sofia Polcanova appears on the entry list as does that of last year’s silver medallist, Romania’s Elizabeta Samara.

Seeding based on the April world rankings, Hitomi Sato is the top seed followed by Saki Shibata, Sofia Polcanova and Elizabeta Samara; Honoka Hashimoto is the no.6 seed on a list that witnesses five of the top eight places reserved by Japan. Miyu Kato is the no.5 seed, Miyu Nagasaki, the no.8 seed; the one further interloper is Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz, she is the no.7 seed. Yang Xiaoxin is listed further down the order, she is the no.20 seed.

Title defended in the women’s singles event, it is the same in the women’s doubles, an event where history could well be written. Honoka Hashimoto and Hitomi Sato won in both 2017 and 2018; if they can repeat the feat they will become the first pair at either an ITTF Challenge Series tournament or on the ITTF World Tour, to win the women’s doubles title at the same tournament in three consecutive years.

Three at the same tournament has been realised, all by Chinese pairs at the China Open. Guo Yan and Guo Yue achieved the feat (2005, 2007, 2011), as in more recent times the combination of Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen (2009, 2014, 2017), as well as that of Chen Meng and Zhu Yuling (2012, 2013, 2016). However, none succeeded never in successive years.

Honoka Hashimoto and Hitomi Sato start as favourites to complete the task but if the party is to be spoiled; it could well be by their colleagues. Satsuki Odo and Saki Shibata, the winners earlier in the year in Oman occupy the no.2 seed position; the pair against whom they suffered defeat in last week’s Slovenia final, Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki reserve the no.7 seeded spot.

Japan very much in line for honours; it is the same in the under 21 women’s singles; Yumeno Soma heads the seeding ahead of Adriana Diaz, India’s Archana Girish Kamath and Daria Trigolos of Belarus.

Challenge Series 2019 Croatia Open Saki Shibata Hitomi Sato Honoka Hashimoto

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