Six events down. Six to go. At the halfway stage of this year’s ITTF World Tour, who will be celebrating in seventh heaven when the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum Australian Open concludes on Sunday 14 July?
After two days of intense qualifying rounds, in which a number of big names fell out of the reckoning, the main event kicks off on Thursday 11 July in Geelong, Victoria, where a star-studded line-up of seeded players joins the party with two of the game’s greatest talents attempting to do what has never been achieved before.
WILL XU-PERMAN REWRITE RECORDS?
Should he lift the men’s singles title this weekend, Xu Xin (CHN) would become the first ever player to win the trophy more than once in Australian Open history. The 2018 champion and world no.1 is the man in form and has prevailed at the last two ITTF World Tour events in Japan and Korea. Victory in Geelong would truly rubberstamp his supremacy at the top of the charts.
Sharing the same quarter of the draw as Xu is world no.7 Hugo Calderano (BRA), while Fan Zhendong (CHN) could lie in wait at the semi-final stage. The world no.3 is searching for his first title on this year’s World Tour and begins his campaign against Kristian Karlsson (SWE), who took Ma Long – the most successful man in ITTF World Tour history – to the wire at last week’s Korea Open.
The reigning world and Olympic champion, Ma Long is in arguably the toughest section of the draw, with Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) – the former world no.1 and current no.11 – a potential opponent in the second round, while world no.2 Lin Gaoyuan (CHN) is favourite to book a quarter-final contest, potentially against ‘The Dictator’ who has prevailed in each of their highest-profile meetings so far this year: the Qatar and China Open finals.
World no.4 Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) must get past the man who knocked him out of the Korea Open, Wang Chuqin (CHN) in the first round. The winner of that tie and world no.6 Liang Jingkun (CHN) would then be favourites to reach the semi-finals.
WOMEN’S ROUTE TO GLORY
Women’s singles champion in Gold Coast two years ago, Chen Meng (CHN) also has history in her sights: like Xu Xin in the men’s competition, she too can become the first to repeat success at the Australian Open. Last year’s winner in Geelong, Liu Shiwen has withdrawn from the event through injury.
Chen, who is world no.1 and aiming for her fourth title already on the 2019 ITTF World Tour, could meet world no.6 and highest ranked non-Chinese women’s player, Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN) in the quarter-finals. The semi-finals could set up a meeting against any one of world no.4 Zhu Yuling, no.5 Wang Manyu and no.11 Sun Yingsha (all CHN). Wang and Sun will face off in the pick of the round one fixtures on Thursday.
On the other half of the draw, world no.3 Ding Ning (CHN) and no.7 Mima Ito (JPN) are favourites to meet in the final four. Reigning Olympic champion, Ding is aiming to reach a second successive final on the ITTF World Tour, having lost in last week’s Korea Open showpiece to Chen Meng.
PARTNERS IN CRIME
Ma Long links up with Lin Gaoyuan (CHN) in the men’s doubles, instead of Wang Chuqin – his World Championship winning partner. Mattias Falck and Kristian Karlsson also team up again after spending the most recent events apart. Meanwhile, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin will go for gold again following last week’s success in Busan.
Chen Meng and Wang Manyu continue their women’s doubles partnership as top seeds just a week after coming away victorious in Korea. Liu Shiwen’s absence has deprived Ding Ning and Xu Xin of campaigns in the women’s and mixed doubles respectively.
In the latter competition, their first round opponents would have been Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani (JPN), who are now looking to take advantage in only their second international event as a pair. The mixed doubles also features two Australian partnerships: Heming Hu and Melissa Tapper, and Kane Townsend and Jee Minhyung, who will be eager to get the home crowd roaring inside the Geelong Arena.
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