With China’s star players not travelling to eastern Europe, the question on everyone’s lips is whether this will be the time for different countries to stake their claim on the 2019 ITTF World Tour winners’ list or if China’s second string will rise to the challenge and continue the powerhouse nation’s imperious record in this year’s competition.
Let’s take a look at who is gunning for glory as the main draw of the Bulgaria Open gets under way today lasting until Sunday 18 August.
MEN’S SINGLES: HARIMOTO & OVTCHAROV LEAD THE LINE
World no.5 Tomokazu HARIMOTO (JPN) is top seed in Bulgaria, the 16-year-old star kicking off his campaign today against ZHU Linfeng (CHN) with a possible meeting in the second round against 9th seed JEOUNG Youngsik (KOR) on the cards, while Vladimir SAMSONOV (BLR) and Sathiyan GNANASEKARAN (IND) are the highest seeds amongst Harimoto’s potential quarter-final opponents.
According to ranking, Harimoto could be in line for a semi-final clash against Japanese compatriot Koki NIWA. The 3rd seed however will need to navigate his way past a number of exciting European opponents in his quarter of the draw: Marcos FREITAS (POR), Liam PITCHFORD (ENG), Jonathan GROTH (DEN) and Tomislav PUCAR (CRO) are all fighting the corner of the host continent.
2nd seed Dimitrij OVTCHAROV (GER) begins his journey in Bulgaria against Masataka MORIZONO (JPN). Thereafter an all-German clash with Ruwen FILUS could follow, while LEE Sangsu (KOR) and Simon GAUZY (FRA) are amongst those battling in a competitive quarter of the draw.
4th seed JUN Mizutani (JPN) and 7th seed WONG Chun Ting (HKG) will have their sights set on reaching a potential semi-final, but watch out for the winner of today’s first round match between MA Te (CHN) and the recently crowned ITTF Challenge Plus Nigeria Open champion, Quadri ARUNA (NGR), while Kazuhiro YOSHIMURA (JPN) has also stated his intent after reaching the main draw, as his brother Maharu fell in the qualification rounds:
“My aim is to be even more successful than my brother. I want to compete at the Olympic Games for Japan. My brother’s and my own position in the world rankings are similar and sometimes there is a fierce rivalry between us. Our family expects us to win every time and I am trying to comply with this! My aim is to be among the top eight here in Bulgaria. The organisation here is very good and the competition is unbelievable.” Kazuhiro YOSHIMURA
WOMEN’S SINGLES: JAPAN FAVOURITES FOR TITLE
Japan’s women will be strongly tipped to bring home what would be their first gold medal in singles competition on the 2019 ITTF World Tour. Kasumi ISHIKAWA, Mima ITO and Miu HIRANO are the top three seeds, Saki SHIBATA and Hitomi SATO occupy the 6th and 7th positions, while the likes of Miyu KATO, Honoka HASHIMOTO and Hina HAYATA also provide plenty of strength in depth for the nation.
Korea Republic’s top candidates come in the form of 4th seed SUH Hyowon and 8th seed JEON Jihee, while 15-year-old SHIN Yubin – who performed so admirably at this year’s Korea Open – has qualified for the main draw and faces Mima Ito in the first round.
Chinese 5th and 11th seeds, HE Zhuojia and CHEN Xingtong, will do their best to maintain the nation’s grip on this year’s ITTF World Tour titles, while Europe’s main hopes come in the form of 9th and 10th seeds, Bernadette SZOCS (ROU) and Sofia POLCANOVA (AUT), who share the same quarter of the draw. Elizabeta SAMARA (ROU) and Georgina POTA (HUN) also join them in the main event.
DOUBLES: THE PARTNERS IN CRIME
The Mixed Doubles competition is set to be highly intriguing with a number of exciting partnerships on show: LEE Sangsu and JEON Jihee (KOR) are top seeds and favourites for the title, but the draw could see them face a titanic final battle against one of Japan’s deadly duos: Tomokazu HARIMOTO links up again with Kasumi ISHIKAWA, while Jun MIZUTANI and Mima ITO continue their quest for a debut gold medal together. Both pairs are bidding to represent the host nation in Mixed Doubles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Europe too is providing plenty of seasoned pairings in the form of 2nd seeds Stefan FERGEL and Sofia POLCANOVA (AUT), 4th seeds Adam SZUDI and Szandra PERGEL (HUN), 5th seeds Tristan FLORE and Laura GASNIER (FRA) and 6th seeds Ovidiu IONESCU and Bernadette SZOCS (ROU).
In the Women’s Doubles, Barbora BALAZOVA (SVK) and Hana MATELOVA (CZE) represent Europe’s best chance of glory as 3rd seeds, while JEON Jihee and YANG Haeun (KOR) and Miyuu KIHARA and Miyu NAGASAKI (JPN) start as favourites.
Meanwhile, HO Kwan Kit and WONG Chun Ting (HKG) and JEOUNG Youngsik and LEE Sangsu (KOR) are the outstanding candidates for the Men’s Doubles title.
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