by Ian Marshall, Editor
The highest rated player on qualification stage men’s singles duty is Frenchman, Abdel-Kader Salifou, the 29 year old who simmers just below the line of selection for his nation’s first team.
He is quite an anomaly; he was not selected for the recent Liebherr 2019 World Championships, yet he has won more ITTF World Tour men’s singles titles than any other Frenchman!
Notably from the squad of players that saw France gain the silver medal in the men’s team event at the 1997 World Championships in Manchester, Jean-Philippe Gatien and Patrick Chila alongside the erstwhile reserve, Nicholas Chatelain never won. Meanwhile for the remaining members of the quintet, Christophe Legout and Damien Eloi, they have one each to their name. Christophe Legout succeeded on home soil in Lyon in 1997, Damiel Eloi one year later in Sweden.
Fast forward to last month in Budapest, the selection read: Can Akkuzu, Tristan Flore, Simon Gauzy and Emmanuel Lebesson. All are players who have enjoyed noteworthy success but none has an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title in their curriculum vitae.
The one other player who joins the French club of one title to his name is that of Antoine Hachard; he won in 2016 in Santiago.
Now compare those records with Abdel-Kader Salifou; in 2013 he won in Morocco, Egypt and Croatia. He has won three times more than any of his compatriots!
Accepted they were all Challenge Series tournaments but since the Challenge Series became a separate entity in 2017, no Frenchman has won!
In 2017, Tristan Flore was the runner up in Croatia; in 2018 Antoine Hachard experienced the same fate in Nigeria before just over two weeks ago Abdel-Kader Salifou was the silver medallist in Serbia. He was beaten in the final by England’s Paul Drinkhall, the no.12 seed and the highest seeded player this month to win a Challenge Series men’s singles tournament.
The following tournament, Croatia’s Wei Shihao, required to qualify, prevailed in Slovenia, two days ago Sweden’s Anton Källberg, the no.32 seed, succeeded in Zagreb. All were outsiders for honours.
Just as in Serbia, Abdel-Kader Salifou starts in the qualification tournament; can he repeat his performance and reach the final? Moreover, can he climb one step higher?
Judging by the results of earlier this month, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, the door is wide open.