by Kabir Nagpal
Let the show begin!
The stars will be shining bright for the next four days in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where the top 16 women’s and top 16 men’s athletes will compete for silverware and precious world ranking points. These will come especially handy for qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In addition, there is an attractive total prize purse of $1.5 million across the three T2 Diamond events scheduled during 2019, which fans can watch live on itTV.
The refurbished T2 Diamond series has returned to where it was inaugurated in 2017. The famous Iskandar Malaysia Studios (IMS) in Johor Bahru will be host to what is being called one of the progressive tournaments in table tennis, and rightly so. This competition provides a more fast-flowing format of the sport, whereby the elite athletes taking part have more than just their opponent to worry about, as the time limit of 24 minutes looms. In case there is no winner after 24 minutes, a FAST5 format will be introduced with the first player to five points winning each remaining game. Existing games in progress at the 24th minute mark will continue to 11 points.
Coloured rubbers will also be allowed, with reigning T2 Diamond women’s champion, Bernadette Szocs, the first to seize on this new ITTF initiative by going with pink rubber for one side of her bat. Other players are expected to follow suit as the season progresses.
“Table tennis continues to be one of the leading sports in the world, with our world class athletes delivering exciting and compelling fast-paced action at the table. We hope to see that the T2 model will prove to the market how best to commercialise table tennis. At the ITTF we are flexible and open to new ideas of taking the sport to a new level and success for the T2 events would demonstrate that there is a much better chance for table tennis to grow as fast as we’d like.” ITTF CEO, Steve Dainton
“From our founding T2 APAC and its innovative team play, we now move the competition a notch higher with the world’s top players needing to play consistently well just to qualify for each of our three lucrative events. Our exacting format means players will need to be at their very best to win and we expect fans to be treated to table tennis of the highest quality in T2 Diamond.” Chairman of T2 Diamond and Special Adviser to ITTF President, Mr Frank Ji
“It is fitting that Malaysia hosts the opening event of the world’s most riveting table tennis tournament – Seamaster T2 Diamond 2019 Malaysia. The T2Cavern at IMS was where history was made in 2017 and where table tennis will chart new heights with the world’s top 16 men’s and women’s players. The combined prize purse of US$1.5 million is an added bonus as these world class players also stand to gain additional ITTF World Ranking points in the tight battle for 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualification.” T2 CEO and Commissioner, Jeff Chue
Champions get the action started
As if that was not enough to get everyone excited, China’s Olympic champion Ding Ning, who has enjoyed somewhat a revival in recent weeks, is set to meet Bernadette Szocs from Romania in the very first round. Ding, who is nicknamed ‘The Queen of Hearts’, has reached two consecutive finals on the ITTF World Tour (Korea and Australian Opens) but failed to convert the silver into gold.
Over to the men’s draw, German legend Timo Boll will be unable to defend his title, given his recent hip injury in the build-up to the tournament. His quality will be missed, however his compatriot Dimitrij Ovtcharov will look to keep the German flag flying high against world no.1, Xu Xin. The Chinese star dubbed ‘Xu-perman’ has now won three World Tour titles in a row. Will anything or anyone stop him in Johor Bahru?
Another Chinese champion last week in Geelong, Sun Yingsha will be looking to maintain her good run of form against Chen Szu-Yu from Chinese Taipei. Women’s world no.1 Chen Meng will need to be careful versus one part of Hong Kong’s doubles champion in Geelong, Doo Hoi Kem, who has repeatedly shown that she is not to be taken lightly.
Just days after defeating the legendary Ma Long in Australia, it remains to be seen if the ‘Dragon-slayer’ Wang Chuqin can work his magic against Lin Gaoyuan in the opening game on Thursday. Brazilian rising star Hugo Calderano will want to avoid any form of backlash from Fan Zhendong, as the former top-ranked Chinese looks to turn the tide of an underwhelming year so far for him.
The next four days call for eyeball-glued action with the top 32 in the world out in force. Stay tuned on all the action as it unfolds by following the links below: