by Ian Marshall, Editor
Zheng Peifeng is one of four past men’s singles winners on duty this year; notably all present at the recent 2019 ITTF World Tour Asarel Bulgaria Open.
Portugal’s Marcos Freitas won in 2014, whilst being the runner up last year; Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting succeeded in 2015. In Olomouc, as last week in Bulgaria, Marcos Freitas must qualify. Wong Chun Ting is the no.11 seed.
In Panagyurishte, the Hong Kong star was beaten in a dramatic second round encounter by Nigeria’s Quadri Aruna, not present in Olomouc, his attentions being focused on the Africa Games in Rabat; Marcos Freitas lost to Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto, the champion elect and the player for whom the ITTF World Tour Czech Open has a special place.
On the afternoon of Sunday 27th August 2017, he won the men’s singles title beating Germany’s Timo Boll in the final; at the time he was 14 years and 61 days old; in so doing he smashed the previous youngest ever record into smithereens. The prior best was that recorded by China’s Yu Ziyang; he was 16 years and 30 days old when he won the men’s singles title at the GAC Group 2014 ITTF World Tour Japan Open.
In Olomouc Tomokazu Harimoto is the top seed – could we experience a repeat of the final two years ago? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Timo Boll is the no.3 seed one place ahead of colleague Dimitrij Ovtcharov and one behind Brazil’s Hugo Calderano. Next in line is the Japanese duo of Koki Niwa and Jun Mizutani, followed by Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu and England’s Liam Pitchford.
However, it is the next two names that attract the attention; Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Germany’s Patrick Franziska complete the top 10 seeded places. Both have been in outstanding form this year and are currently enjoying a rich vein of success. In July, on the ITTF World Tour in Australia, Patrick Franziska beat Fan Zhendong and Sweden’s Mattias Falck, before losing narrowly to Xu Xin. At the T2 Diamond in Johor Bahru, Lin Yun-Ju caused China more food for thought. He accounted for both Ma Long and Fan Zhendong en route to gold.
Likewise four champions
Similarly, in the women’s singles event four previous champions appear on the entry list. Additional to Kasumi Ishikawa, also the runner up in 2017, her nemesis on that occasion, colleague Mima Ito is on duty. Likewise, Romania’s Elizabeta Samara, successful in 2014 and Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin, gold medallist in 2016, compete.
Elizabeta Samara and Yang Xiaoxin start their adventures in the qualification tournament. Meanwhile, Mima Ito occupies the no.2 seeded position ahead of colleague Miu Hirano and Korea Republic’s Suh Hyowon. Singapore’s Feng Tianwei is the next in line followed by China’s He Zhuojia; Japan’s Saki Shibata and Hitomi Sato complete the top eight names.
However, is the favourite for the title amongst those names? Arguably not! Chen Xingtong, the winner last week in Bulgaria beating colleague He Zhuojia in the final, is the player in form. She is the no.11 seed and alongside He Zhuojia has a special mission. No player representing China has ever reached the women’s singles final at the ITTF World Tour Czech Open.
Somewhat differently in the men’s doubles and women’s doubles events, no prior pair that has secured the title appears on the entry list. The men’s doubles partnership to catch the eye is that of Chinese Taipei’s Chen Chien-An and Chuang Chih-Yuan; the enigma! They won the men’s doubles title at the Liebherr 2013 World Championships in Paris but together have never reach an ITTF World Tour final!
In Olomouc they have a major opportunity, they are the no.3 seeds; just one problem could their colleagues spoil the party? Liao Cheng-Ting and Lin Yun-Ju occupy the top seeded spot ahead of Hong Kong’s Ho Kwan Kit and Lam Siu Hang.
Notably, earlier this year in March Liao Cheng-Ting and Lin Yun-Ju emerged successful at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Oman Open; a situation similar to that of Japan’s Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki, the women’s doubles top seeds. In May they won in both Slovenia and Croatia. Equally, just as with Chen Chien-An and Chuang Chih-Yuan could the biggest threat to title aspirations be from colleagues?
Runners up last week in Bulgaria, Miu Hirano and Saki Shibata occupy the no.3 seeded position behind the combination of Slovakia’s Barbora Balazova and the host nation’s Hana Matelova.
Note Bulgarian winners
A prominent status for Barbora Balazova, it is the same in the mixed doubles; partnering colleague Lubomir Pistej, the duo occupies the no.2 seeded spot ahead of Austria’s Stefan Fegerl and Sofia Polcanova. Winners last year in Australia, Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu and Jeon Jihee head the list; but beware of the pair who just miss out on a top eight seeded spot.
The winners in Bulgaria, Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito are together again.