By Kabir Nagpal
Ma Long breaks World Tour titles record
‘The Dragon’ has been soaring high these past few months, as he broke the World Tour titles record when he won the China Open in Shenzhen immediately after securing the Qatar Open in Doha. It’s almost as if Ma’s unprecedented third straight World Table Tennis Championship success is propelling the legend for more, every time he steps forth. At this rate, Tokyo 2020 will be expected to host a roaring dragon next year.
Xu-perman in control, while Fan continues to falter
A world #1 battle between two top-class athletes is generally enjoyed by the fans, however China’s Fan Zhendong’s decline since the start of this year has his faithful rather worried. He has been largely unable to stick the landing as he lost in the T2 Diamond series final to Chinese Taipei prodigy Lin-Yun Ju.
Meanwhile, post the World Championships in Budapest Xu Xin has lived up to his nickname of “Xu-perman” as he won three World Tour titles back to back in Japan, Korea and Australia claiming the number one spot for his own. The Cloudwalker had the following to say after defending his title in Geelong:
“You get into good shape through competing, one match after another. I did not think about winning three straight championships. I just do what I need to do, to be active and switched on.”-Xu Xin
Change of guard: Chen top as Queen of Hearts comes close
Just as in the men’s game, China’s top female athletes have been jostling for position and Chen Meng’s undisputed claim to the #1 spot was a journey to behold. After missing out on the gold in Budapest, she has won both China and Korea Opens, facing the toughest of competition along the way. One of whom was her senior compatriot and Olympic medalist Ding Ning. The Queen of Hearts has been unable to record any victories despite amazing performances getting her to two consecutive finals. World Championships winner Liu Shiwen is the other candidate who has not been able to get going, primarily due to her injury setback.
Teenage talents impress
Reigning Youth Olympic Games champions, China’s Sun Yingsha and Wang Chuqin have turned up the heat over their senior opponents in the last 100 days. Sun, who had never won against Ding Ning in world ranking events, defeated the Queen of Hearts in the final of the Australian Open, after previously having secured a convincing win over Liu Shiwen to claim the Japan Open. Wang has been no less impressive, with critical wins over Ma Long (!) and Liang Jingkun in the World Tour. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Lin-Yun Ju defeated Fan Zhendong to claim the T2 Diamond Series. Is he the real deal?
No joy for Japan: Harimoto & Ito unable to replicate 2018 form
Despite the best efforts of Japan’s finest, not much has changed their fortunes since the World Championships. Tamakazu Harimoto’s loss in the round of 16 in Budapest was followed by just one finals appearance in Hong Kong. Similarly, Mima Ito had a runners-up spot at Hang Seng as well, but little else across the World Tour. It is coming to a time where fans would really want to see these two channel some of their 2018 form in anticipation of the Olympic Games next year, which will be held of course on home soil in Tokyo.
Franziska & Falck fight Europe’s corner
German Patrick Franziska’s epic performance against Xu Xin in Australia brought him within two points of reaching his first ITTF World Tour final in two years. It was a testament to Europe’s quality, as Franziska had to produce a miraculous fightback against Sweden’s Mattias Falck in the previous round. These two have been giving their best since the World Championships, where Falck reached the finals but could not tame Ma “The Dictator” Long.
Timo’s going to Tokyo
Flying the European flag highest, though, is legendary German Timo Boll who claimed glory – and a ticket to Tokyo 2020 – at the European Games last month. Boll has never made it a secret that he intends to keep going for as long as possible. Where that takes the 37-year-old is something we all await to see.
Mixed Doubles: Xu Xin & Liu Shiwen remain brilliant but beatable
The World Championships pairing from China have continued being irresistible across the World Tour, but not invincible. As Hong Kong’s pair Wong Chun Ting & Doo Hoi Kem showed their strength on the table when they beat Xu & Liu at the 2019 Korea Open. Wong and Doo followed that up with yet another victory in Australia when they saw off Japan’s Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani. What we definitely know now is that there are no favorites when the next Hong Kong-China match takes place.
More to come from Calderano and co?
Patrick Franziska has not been the only player to provide Xu Xin with a scare over the last 100 days. In the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, Hugo Calderano from Brazil battled with vigor and style, threatening to come back from 3-0 down. There have been regular glimpses of such brilliance from Calderano across the World Tour, as well as from the likes of Portuguese Marcos Freitas and Frenchman Simon Gauzy, who knocked out Xu Xin in Budapest.
The feel of Gold: more chances to taste silverware on the ITTF Challenge Series
The remodelled ITTF Challenge series has been responsible for a lot of the excitement since the World Championships concluded in Budapest. The Pyongyang Open last week signalled the start of second half of the season, one where the opportunist athletes have made hay. This is especially true for China’s Zhu Yuling and Chinese Taipei’s prodigy Lin-Yun Ju, both of whom used another remodelled tournament, the T2 Diamond Series in Malaysia, to taste Gold and showcase their talent to the entire world.