by Ian Marshall, Editor
Sensationally the winner at the Grand Finals last December in Incheon, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto heads the men’s singles seeding in Panagyurishte. Presently on the standings, he is named at no.5 (506 points); he not may quite be mathematically certain of a place in the Grand Finals but a good performance, justify his status and he will be virtually home and dry.
He is listed ahead of Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov; the Japanese duo of Koki Niwa and Jun Mizutani being the next in line. All three are somewhat on the brink, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, the winner in Panagyurishte in 2017, stands at no.15 (200 points), being behind Jun Mizutani, listed at no.12 (264 points) but ahead of Koki Niwa at no.18 (174 points).
Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu is the no.5 seed followed by England’s Liam Pitchford, a player aiming to find the form of last year when, in the opening round, he beat China’s redoubtable Ma Long; Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting and Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus complete the top eight names.
All have some work to do if they are to compete in the Grand Finals. Wong Chun Ting is on the borderline, he is named on the standings at no.16 (198 points), being ahead of Lee Sangsu at no.19 (166 points) and Liam Pitchford at no.22 (124 points). They are in striking distance of qualification; for Vladimir Samsonov, he needs to turn back the clock back to 1997 when he won at the second ever Grand Finals in Hong Kong. On the standings he is named at no.38 (56 points).
It is a similar situation for the one further player on duty in Panagyurishte, who has secured the men’s singles title at the Grand Finals. Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan, who won the 2002 version in Stockholm, is listed at no.28 (74 points); in Bulgaria he is the no.15 seed. It will take a major effort from the now 38 year old, who has now slipped to no.36 on the men’s world rankings.
A place in the Grand Finals is long shot for both Chuang Chih-Yuan and Vladimir Samsonsov; less so for Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik, the no.9 seed in Panagyurishte; on the standings he is named at no.20 (138 points). Furthermore, Jeoung Youngsik is very much a player in form; one month ago he beat China’s Fan Zhendong on home soil at the quarter-final stage of the men’s singles event at the ITTF World Tour Shinan Korea Open.
Twice the champion
Good performances and chances enhanced, it is the same in the women’s singles, Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa the winner in Bulgaria in both 2015 and 2017, is the top seed, followed by colleagues Mima Ito and Miu Hirano. Presently on the women’s singles standings, Mima Ito is at no.6 (681 points), Miu Hirano one place below (429 points). Kasumi Ishikawa, who won at the Grand Finals in 2014 in Bangkok, is at no.10 (372 points).
Further down the list and looking very much an outside candidate for a place in the Grand Finals is the Korea Republic’s Suh Hyowon; the no.4 seed in Panagyurishte, she is presently at no.24 (114 points), alongside Austria’s Sofia Polcanova and two places behind Romania’s Bernadette Szocs (122 points). In Bulgaria, Sofia Polcanova is the no.10 seed, Bernadette Szocs, the no.9 seed.
Undoubtedly the two European players are in contention for Grand Final places but more in contention are the players who complete the top eight names in the women’s singles event. China’s He Zhuojia is the no.5 seed, next on the list is the Japanese duo of Saki Shibata and Hitomi Sato followed by Korea Republic’s Jeon Jihee. Presently on the standings, Hitomi Sato is named at no.14 (232 points), He Zhuojia, the runner up last December at the Incheon Grand Finals at no.15 (182 points). She is pursued by Jeon Jihee, at no.17 (172 points) and Saki Sibata at no.19 (147 points).
Most certainly, all could claim places in the 2019 Grand Finals as could China’s Chen Xingtong, the no.11 seed in Bulgaria; on the standings she is named at no.13 (239 points).
Likewise, in the men’s doubles event, Hong Kong’s Ho Kwan Kit and Wong Chun Ting alongside Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu, the respective top two seeded pairs could do their cause for a place in the Grand Finals no harm at all. On the men’s doubles listings Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu occupy the no.2 spot (550 points), two places ahead of Ho Kwan Kit and Wong Chun Ting (413 points).
Next on the seeding in Bulgaria is the pair that defies logic. Chen Chien-An and Chuang Chih-Yuan are together again; in 2013 they won the men’s singles title at the Liebherr World Championships, as a pair they have never reached an ITTF World Tour men’s doubles final! On the current standings they are named at no.12 (119 points).
Top seeded spot for Korea Republic
The second seeded spot for the Korea Republic in the men’s doubles event, in the women’s doubles it is the top spot. Jeon Jihee and Yang Haeun head the list ahead of Japanese teenagers Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki. Both pairs have eyes on the Grand Finals, Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki occupy the no.6 spot (238 points); Jeon Jihee and Yang Haeun stand at no.9 (150 points).
Also on duty in Panagyurishte and in contention for a Grand Finals place is the European combination of Slovakia’s Barbora Balazova and the Czech Republic’s Hana Matelova, the no.3 seeds, as well as the Chinese Taipei pairing of Chen Szu-Yu and Cheng Hsien-Tzu, the no.6 seeds. On the Standings, Chen Szu-Yu and Cheng Hsien-Tzu appear at no.8 (164 points), Barbora Balazova and Hana Matelova at no.11 (139 points).
Notably, Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki, alongside Chen Szu-Yu and Cheng Hsien-Tzu, Barbora Balazova and Hana Matelova, are the top three pairs that have to date completed the minimal four appearances to compete in the Grand Finals.
On the brink
Meanwhile in the mixed doubles, Lee Sangsu and Jeon Jihee head the seeding, followed by Austria’s Stefan Fegerl and Sofia Polcanova; next in line is the combination of Tomokazu Harimoto and Kasumi Ishikawa.
Lee Sangsu and Jeon Jihee are on the brink of a place in the Grand Finals, they occupy the no.8 spot (164 points); lower down the order, somewhat outsiders for qualification, Stefan Fegerl and Sofia Polcanova are listed at no.14 (107 points). They are named five places ahead of Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu and Bernadette Szocs (70 points), the no.6 seeds.
However, the pair to note is that of Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito, the runners up earlier this year in Australia; they are the no.7 seeds in Panagyurishte and could well do their ambitions for a place in the Grand Finals no harm whatsoever, on the standings they are at no.6 (200 points).
Following the conclusion of play at the 2019 Asarel Bulgaria Open, just four tournaments – Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Austria – remain on this year’s calendar.