Following two days of intense qualification rounds, this is where the business begins in earnest with a star-studded line-up of seeded players stepping onto the main stage in Shenzhen.
Who will take the main prizes when Sunday eventually arrives at the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum China Open?
An unavoidable question, but the journey towards those final battles will be a long and hard one for all involved, such is the unbelievable, elite quality of the players on show.
TOUGHER THAN THE OLYMPICS
Take a look at the entry list and you could make a very strong case that the China Open is harder to win than most World Table Tennis Championships or even the Olympic Games.
Of the top 50 Men’s Singles players on the planet, 46 turned up in Shenzhen in search of glory, with the total number of titles (171) won by all Men’s Singles participants outnumbering the entries (153)!
Competition for the Women’s Singles title will be red hot as well, especially when you consider that the top five seeds all have experience of winning the China Open: the Chinese quintet of DING Ning (2014, 2016, 2017), ZHU Yuling (2015), CHEN Meng (2012, 2013), WANG Manyu (2018) and LIU Shiwen (twice in 2009).
RECORDS & WORLD CHAMPIONS: THE STORY
Reigning World and Olympic Champion, MA Long (CHN) is also defending his China Open crown in Shenzhen, starting today with his R32 match against Mizuki OIKAWA (JPN) at 20:15 GMT+8 (live on itTV). For MA to go all the way again this year, he will most likely have to overcome world no. 1 FAN Zhendong (CHN) at the quarter-final stage in what would be another classic encounter between the pair.
‘The Dragon’ has extra incentive to claim the top prize this week, which would see him set a new benchmark of 28 career ITTF World Tour titles. He currently shares the Men’s Singles record with the legendary Vladimir SAMSONOV (BLR), the 43-year-old coming through his qualification rounds to book a match-up against LIANG Jingkun (CHN).
In the Women’s Singles, LIU Shiwen (CHN) will be looking to capitalise on her fine recent form, which saw her end a 10-year wait to clinch gold at the 2019 World Table Tennis Championships in Budapest. The question now is ‘can she go on to win her first China Open in a decade?’ Her journey begins today at 16:05 against compatriot GU Yuting (CHN), who defeated in-form Hina HAYATA (JPN) in qualification.
MEN’S SINGLES: MOVERS & SHAKERS?
Top seed FAN Zhendong will be keen to bounce back from the disappointment of his R16 exit at the World Championships with a strong showing on home soil. He kicks off his campaign against Sathiyan GNANASEKARAN (IND), who produced some of the most pulsating performances throughout qualification with three victories that went the full seven-game distance!
One of the main entertainers in Budapest with his swashbuckling style, Simon GAUZY (FRA) will take on 6th seed LEE Sangsu (KOR). Both players have plenty of tricks up their sleeves! The winner of that match could well set up a quarter-final clash against 4th seed and teenage talent Tomokazu HARIMOTO (JPN)
Can World Championships silver medallist Mattias FALCK (SWE) maintain recent momentum? Form dictates that the 16th seed could take on 2006 China Open champion, Timo BOLL (GER) in the R16, with 2nd seed XU Xin (CHN) lying in wait in the last eight.
As 7th seed, Hugo CALDERANO (BRA) would face no higher-ranked opponent before the quarter-final stage, where LIN Gaoyuan (CHN) and Dimitrij OVTCHAROV (GER) would be the favourites to come up against him. Before that, however, the reigning Pan American champion will likely face the challenge of LIANG Jingkun or SAMSONOV.
WOMEN’S SINGLES: THE WAY FORWARD?
World no. 1 DING Ning (CHN) has the very real prospect of three consecutive contests against Japanese opponents. After kicking off today against Miyuu KIHARA, the top seed is in line to face 9th seed Miu HIRANO and 7th seed Mima ITO, should they all progress.
Defending China Open champion and 4th seed WANG Manyu (CHN) is on course to meet 5th seed LIU Shiwen in the quarter-finals, while 3rd seed CHEN Meng (CHN) faces arguably the toughest possible R32 match-up against compatriot SUN Yingsha.
The winner of that clash would put themselves in the driving seat to reach the semi-finals where 2nd seed ZHU Yuling would be the favourite to reach that stage as comfortably the highest ranked player in her quarter of the draw.
Silver medallists at the World Championships, the mixed nationality Men’s Doubles pairing of Alvaro ROBLES (ESP) & Ovidiu IONESCU (ROU) look determined to build on that success, having booked their place in the quarter-finals where they will take on World Champions MA Long & WANG Chuqin (CHN) who have progressed from the qualification rounds. That’s right, there will be a rematch of that Budapest final on Friday!
In the Women’s Doubles, WANG Manyu & ZHU Yuling (CHN) will fancy their chances of glory. The top-ranked pair are through to the quarter-finals with 2nd and 3rd seeds Barbora BALAZOVA (SVK) & Hana MATELOVA (CZE) and DOO Hoi Kem & NG Wing Nam (HKG) no longer in the running.
The Mixed Doubles story so far sees plenty of big names through to the quarter-finals: top seeds WONG Chun Ting & DOO Hoi Kem (HKG), the newly formed partnership of XU Xin & CHEN Meng (CHN) and also Tomokazu HARIMOTO & Kasumi ISHIKAWA (JPN), back together again. Could success in Shenzhen ensure they are Japan’s preferred choice for Tokyo 2020?