10 Sep 2019

Quarter-finalist earlier this year in April at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships, Koki Niwa leads a strong Japanese entry at the ITTF Challenge Paraguay Open; he lines up alongside Masataka Morizono, Honoka Hashimoto, Hina Hayata and Maki Shiomi.

Pan America's highest-ranked female player, Adriana Diaz, leads the women's seeding at the five-day event in Paraguay - the first international open tournament to be staged in the South American country, commencing in Asuncion on Tuesday 10th September.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Koki Niwa is one of three players on duty who have won ITTF World Tour men’s singles titles, the other names being Brazil’s Eric Jouti and Thiago Monteiro. In 2014 Koki Niwa won in Russia, the following year Eric Jouti succeeded in Argentina, Thiago Monteiro in Chile.

In Asuncion, Eric Jouti is the no.6 seed, Thiago Monteiro, the no.8 seed. The names next in line to Koki Niwa are Brazil’s Gustavo Tsuboi followed by Austria’s Robert Gardos, Japan’s Masataka Morizono and Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej; Italy’s Niagol Stoyanov fills the no.7 seeded spot.

One step short

Notably, on the ITTF World Tour, Gustavo Tsuboi was the runner up in 2013 and 2014 on home soil in Santos; the same fate that befell Robert Gardos in 2006 in Chile as well as on the ITTF Challenge Series last year in Spain and one month ago in Nigeria. Likewise, at the 2014 ITTF World Tour Spanish Open, the runner up spot was the lot of Masataka Morizono, as was the scenario for Lubomir Pistej at the 2018 ITTF Challenge Slovenia Open.

Robert Gardos striving for the next step (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Slightly differently, for Niagol Stoyanov, he has yet to reach the final of an open international tournament but make no mistake he is a challenger for a podium finish. On the 2014 ITTF World Tour, he reached the penultimate round in Belgium.

Adriana Diaz heads order

Meanwhile, in the women’s singles event, Honaka Hashimoto and Hina Hayata appear next in the order of merit behind Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz. Winner of the Universal 2019 Pan America Cup in February on home soil in Guaynabo, Adriana Diaz has yet to enjoy the same level of success at an ITTF Challenge Series tournament; earlier this year she was a quarter-finalist in Croatia, last year she progressed to the same round in Slovenia.

Somewhat conversely, Honoka Hashimoto is no stranger to ITTF Challenge Series finals; she won in 2017 in Spain and has finished in runner up spot on no less than six occasions. One of those occasions was earlier this year in Portugal when beaten by Hina Hayata. Additionally, Hina Hayata won in Oman and Serbia, as well as in 2017 in Spain and on the ITTF World Tour in 2016 in Australia.

Three ITTF Challenge Series titles this year for Hina Hayata (Photo: Lukas Kabon)


Slovakia’s Barbora Balazova is the no.4 seed, a semi-finalist earlier this year in Serbia; she is followed by Brazil’s Bruna Takahashi who reached the same round one home soil in São Paulo in 2017. A quarter-finalist last year in Slovenia, Maki Shiomi is the no.6 seed; Italy’s Deborah Vivarelli and Puerto Rico’s Melanie Diaz, both players yet to reach the later rounds of a women’s singles event at an open international tournament, complete the top eight names.

Prominent names

Similarly, in the under 21 women’s singles event, the names of Maki Shiomi and Bruna Takahashi are prominent, they occupy the top two seeded positions; in the counterpart under 21 men’s singles competition, that privilege belongs to Romania’s Cristian Pletea and Belgium’s Florian Cnudde. Notably, in the age group Maki Shiomi won on the 2017 ITTF World Tour in China, in 2015 Bruna Takahashi succeeded in Chile.

Likewise the name of Maki Shiomi is prominent in the women’s doubles event; she partners Honoka Hashimoto and occupies the top seeded spot ahead of Adriana and Melanie Diaz, the winners at the recent Lima 2019 Pan American Games.

Barbora Balazova (foreground) and Lubomir Pistej, top seeds in the mixed doubles event (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Meanwhile, in both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles events, the notable name is that of Lubomir Pistej. Top seeded in both disciplines; in the former he partners Masataka Morizono, in the latter Barbora Balazova, the player with whom he reached the quarter-final round at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships earlier this year. Adriana Diaz and colleague Brian Afanador occupy the no.2 seeded position, bronze medallists at the recent Pan American Games.

Formidable challenge

Undoubtedly, Brian Afanador and Adriana Diaz present a formidable challenge to the aspirations of Lubomir Pistej, as in the men’s doubles do the next in the order of merit. Belgium’s Martin Allegro and Florent Lambiet. They occupy the no.2 seeded spot followed by Brazil’s Eric Jouti and Gustavo Tsuboi. Earlier this year on the ITTF Challenge Tour, Martin Allegro and Florent Lambiet were the runners up in Croatia, Eric Jouti and Gustavo Tsuboi won in Slovenia.

However, could the pair to note be Argentina’s Gaston Alto and Horacio Cifuentes? They won the men’s doubles title at the recently concluded Pan American Championships; at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Paraguay Open, they are the no.5 seeds behind Thiago Monteiro and Brazilian colleague, Vitor Ishiy.

A pair in form; also at Pan American Championships, Vitor Ishiy was in form. He won the men’s singles title. Not seeded at the ITTF Challenge Series Paraguay Open, could he cause a major upset?

Vitor Ishiy in form (Photo: Paloma Mutti)


Overall 51 men and 30 women will compete in the first ever ITTF Challenge Paraguay Open.

Challenge Series 2019 Paraguay Open Koki Niwa

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Day 3 - 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Paraguay Open