By Kabir Nagpal
The 2019 ITTF-ATTU Asian Table Tennis Championships begin on September 15 and when the dust settles on September 22, one team each in the men’s and women’s competitions will have tickets for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With such high stakes, let’s take you through the athletes on the teams with their sights set on that elusive prize.
It’s hard not to start a thread of favorites without considering the behemoth that is Team China. Led by current World no.1 and 2 in Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong, the men’s team comprises of exquisite names such as Lin Gaoyuan, 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Portugal Open winner Liang Jingkun, and the prodigious 19-year-old Wang Chuqin.
Team China’s men’s line-up is very evenly matched by the women’s team, for whom leading the charge will be another World no.1 in Chen Meng, with an elite list of athletes by her side. ‘The Queen of Hearts’ Ding Ning brings her experience as does 2019 World champion Liu Shiwen, 2019 ITTF World Tour Qatar Open winner Wang Manyu and the rising star Sun Yingsha.
From the subcontinent, India’s men’s side has a few notable names about to ply their trade in Yogyakarta. Harmeet Desai, who helped India to men’s team gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, will have his winning compatriots Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Sharath Kamal Achanta and Amalraj Anthony by his side. Newcomer Manav Vikash Thakkar has finally graduated to the senior’s party after winning his fourth career ITTF World Junior Circuit Boys’ Singles title in November 2018.
For the women’s team, Indian fan favorite Manika Batra will lead the country’s efforts in conjunction with her 2018 Commonwealth Games women’s doubles gold medal winning teammate in Madhurika Patkar, while Archana Girish Kamath, Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee complete the roster.
The Japanese men will have a strong list of names competing in Indonesia, none more so than the in-form Tomokazu Harimoto. The 2019 ASAREL ITTF World Tour Bulgaria Open winner will be the perfect speed demon to attack opponents when brothers Maharu Yoshimura and Kazuhiro Yoshimura reduce the pace of the match. 19-year-old left-handed attacker Yukiya Uda and the experienced Takuya Jin complete the line-up.
Competing in the women’s team event will be the effervescent Miyu Kato and Miu Hirano, with the latter player having won the Asian Championships women’s single’s title in 2017. Helping them along with their immense quality will be ITTF Challenge Thailand Open winner Hitomi Sato, Saki Shibata and double Olympic Games team medallist Kasumi Ishikawa (silver in 2012, bronze in 2016).
Team Korea Republic
The South Korean side taking part in the Asian Championships next week will have some household names in their ranks. Jeon Jihee has long been a role model for aspiring young players across the country, and the career highlights of Suh Hyowon are always inspiring. The upcoming kid on the block, Shin Yubin will have Yang Haeun and Lee Eunhye lending their experience.
For the men’s team competition, veterans Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu have been most impressive over the past few months on the World Tour. The team will also field An Jaehyun – bronze medallist at the 2019 World Table Tennis Championships in Budapest – and attackers Jang Woojin and Kim Minhyeok.
Team Chinese Taipei
Women’s singles quarter-finalist at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Cheng I-Ching will lead the line for Chinese Taipei, with her team comprising of Chen Szu‐Yu, shakehand grip attacker Liu Hsing‐Yin, and hugely experienced Cheng Hsien‐Tzu and Su Pei‐Ling.
After earning his first ITTF World Tour men’s singles title at the 2019 Czech Open in Olomouc, Lin Yun-Ju will be one to watch out for when the Chinese Taipei men’s team lines up. Assisting his efforts will be Chen Chien‐An, Peng Wang‐Wei and Wang Tai‐Wei.
Team Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s athletes have had marvellous performances throughout this year, especially the mixed double’s titles they secured at the 2019 Korea and Australia Opens. One of those winners, Wong Chun Ting, will be a part of the team in Yogyakarta, alongside doubles partner Ho Kwan Kit, Lam Siu Hang, Ng Pak Nam and Kwan Man Ho.
The other half of the mixed doubles champion duo, Doo Hoi Kem, will be leading the women’s team alongside her doubles’ partner Lee Ho Ching, and other teammates like Chau Wing Sze, Soo Wai Yam Minnie and Zhu Chengzhu.
Thailand’s Supanut Wisutmaythangkoon has recently shown he can be extremely good at out-waiting the opposition to claim important victories. This attitude might just be the key to causing major upsets with which his compatriots Pattaratorn Passara, Komgrit Sangpao, Padasak Tanviriyavechakul and Yanapong Panagitgun would agree.
For the women’s team, 2016 Olympic Games competitor Suthasini Sawettabut will need to channel her leadership qualities and take charge of a talented squad which includes Suthasini’s double’s partner Orawan Paranang, her sister Jinnipa Sawettabut, and close friend Nanthana Komwong.
Team North Korea
Adding to the quality in play will be Team North Korea who have 2018 ITTF World Tour Platinum Shinhan Korea Open winner An ji Aong leading the squad of Ri Jong Sik, Kim Ok Chan and Ham Yu Song.
North Korea’s women will be charged to have Cha Hyo Sim in their side, who has been extremely successful in Mixed Doubles with Korea Republic’s Jang Woojin. In her team will be Pyon Song Gyong, Kim Jinju, Kim Nam Hae and Kim Song I.
From Singapore’s list of grand athletes, triple Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei stands tall in leading the women’s squad which includes 2010 World Champion Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye, Wong Xin Ru, and Goi Rui Xuan.
For the men’s team, 19-year old Poh Shao Feng Ethan will look to leave a marker in Indonesia along side Chew Zhe Yu Clarence, Chua Josg Shao Han, Pang Yew En Koen and Koh Dominic Song Jun.
Last but not least, Team Iran add to an illustrious list of squads at the Asian Championships next week, with 2016 Olymian Nima Alamian. His team will also include Amin Ahmadian, Amir Hodaei, Amir Hossein and Noshad Alamiyan.
For the women’s team, Shima Safaei will lead the expectations of growing table tennis nation. The other athletes taking part will be Mahshid Samet, Neda Shahsavari and Fatemeh Jamalifar.