by Kabir Nagpal
Four weeks of pure entertainment have surely spoiled us all in August 2019. Whether it were the athletes coming up with insane shots or the onset of a new trend in Smash TTX, let’s relive the top moments from last month!
Home benefits in Africa
Kicking us off were reigning champions Egyptian duo Omar Assar and Dina Meshref, who successfully retained their titles in an all-round impressive showing at the 2019 ITTF Africa Cup on Monday 5th August in Lagos, Nigeria. Both athletes qualified for the respective Men’s and Women’s World Cup tournaments to be held later in the year in Chengdu, China.
The no.3 seed Assar was imperious as he accounted for the Nigerian favourite and top seed Quadri Aruna in the semi-final (11-6, 11-8, 3-11, 11-7, 11-3) before defeating Ahmed Saleh in a seven game thriller (10-12, 11-3, 11-6, 12-14, 11-3, 9-11, 11-3).
“It was a very tough tournament for me, which started with a knee injury, then I recovered on the second day. I am very happy with this victory and now I will keep training hard as I try to reach another goal in the German league, seizing the next challenge.” Omar Assar
For Meshref, it was a family affair as she beat her cousin, Yousra Helmy in straight games (11-9, 11-9, 11-1, 11-8) to claim her seventh title (!), meaning she will make her sixth consecutive appearance at the Women’s World Cup in November!
But this was not the end of the show in Africa – as the ITTF Challenge Plus Nigeria Open had some surprises for us as well.
Aruna came back from losing out in the Africa Cup to retain his Nigeria Open title on home soil, while Russian Polina Mikhailova completed a double win – securing both the women’s singles and doubles titles with partner Yana Noskova.
Bulgarian party for Asians
Moving to the middle of the month, there was no sign of relaxation from the players as the 2019 ITTF World Tour returned with the Asarel Bulgaria Open.
At 16 years of age, Japan’s fan favourite Tomokazu Harimoto established himself as a serious force on the international table tennis stage, by winning the Bulgaria Open in fine fashion. He defeated China’s Zhao Zihao 4-1 (11-6, 12-14, 11-5, 13-11, 13-15, 11-4) to secure the men’s singles gold medal.
Meanwhile, upcoming athlete Chen Xingtong overcame He Zhuojia (11-4, 7-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-4) in an all-Chinese women’s singles final. It was particularly exciting for Chen given her semi-final scalp of Japan’s Mima Ito, the no.2 seed.
Success for Chen in Bulgaria meant she had secured her fourth career ITTF World Tour women’s singles title. However, as we found out later in August, that number would change very soon.
These results wrapped up an exciting week in eastern Europe, which also produced a first ever international title for Japan’s mixed doubles pair Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani. They defeated China’s Ma Te and Wu Yang 3-1 (11-8, 12-10, 9-11, 11-9) after a stunning show of pace and poise in the final.
It turned out to be a perfect week for our Asian athletes, as Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu won the men’s doubles title, while China’s Gu Yuting and Mu Zi were crowned women’s doubles champions.
There was also a very important victory for the environment, as the Bulgaria Open organisers had decided, instead of the plastic bottles that have been used during the previous editions of the tournament, this time around there would be aluminum bottles provided to all accredited personnel – starting, of course, with the players!
“We firmly believe that our approach will benefit everyone and most importantly the planet that we live on. Furthermore, instead of the typical plastic cups for water and coffee, we are going to use 100 percent recyclable cardboard cups.” Aneliya Karova
Boredom? Czech yourself!
It had been almost nearly three years last week since each of the four singles players to reach an ITTF World Tour final had hailed from four different associations. Following the example set by exciting tournaments that preceded it, the Czech Open in Olomouc had no plans on letting the fun stop.
Concluding on Sunday 25th August, we saw four finalists in men’s and women’s singles flying colours of four different flags. It was a testament to class and competition of this sport across the globe – as well as a signal of truly inspiring times ahead.
Chen Xingtong represented China while playing Japan’s Miu Hirano for the women’s title. This was her second final – and second title – in two weeks, in a moment when she clearly stepped up on to the grand stage of world class athletes.
From Chinese Taipei, talented 18-year-old Lin Yun-Ju faced off with German legend Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Speaking of Ovtcharov, it was a final he reached after a rather important prior match. At the ages of 30 and 27, both Ovtcharov and Patrick Franziska – his semi-final opponent – have the earned the right to be called veterans of the sport at which they highly excel. It speaks to the standards of quality in German athletes that these two are currently engaged in a battle for the final men’s singles spot at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Considering Ovtcharov’s 4-0 win over Franziska at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Czech Open, one would suggest he has the upper hand now, but in table tennis you never know how this “Streit” fight will end.
Coming back to the winners in Olomouc, the teenager Lin Yun-Ju from Chinese Taipei celebrated his debut gold medal at an ITTF World Tour men’s singles event, when he defeated former world no.1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the final (11-9, 11-5, 4-11, 11-5, 11-9).
Judging by how the 18-year-old star has played throughout 2019, this could well be his first of many singles successes on international table tennis’ premier event series. This year, Lin has already claimed consecutive mixed doubles titles at the China and Hong Kong Opens, a triple crown (men’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles titles) at the Challenge Plus Oman Open, and further tasted individual glory at the T2 Diamond Malaysia event in Johor Bahru.
Concluding August with an eye for the future
As we prepared to wrap up August, there was a third tournament in the African continent for the month. At the 2019 African Games concluding today, Egypt secured more success as they qualified for Men’s and Women’s Team events for the Olympic Games next year. Nigeria’s Omotayo Olajide won the men’s singles title on debut and Dina Meshref retained her women’s singles title, becoming the first Egyptian woman to win two in a row.
Across the ocean, the Para Pan American Games in Lima, Peru resulted in a further 15 players – 10 men and 5 women – qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
After such a roller-coaster of a month, we all needed a place to just relax and have a good time. It was in that spirit that more than 4,200 people spent Saturday 24th August basking in the sunshine at one incredible ping pong party in Denver, Colorado, for the first ever Table Tennis X (TTX) event, ‘Smash Street by TTX.‘
TTX is an action-packed rendition of table tennis, which puts a fun new spin on the sport. Whether you came to compete, or just to play some casual pong with your friends, Smash Street was an ace when it comes to fun.
September’s on the horizon for us and we at the ITTF have an even more exciting month ahead for you all! Out of the major events, Liebherr 2019 ITTF-European Championships kick us off in Nantes, France following which will be the ITTF Challenge Plus Paraguay Open in Asuncion, Paraguay.
Finally, we take you to Yogyakarta, Indonesia for the ITTF-ATTU Asian Table Tennis Championships to conclude what is surely going to be another crazy month!