By Kabir Nagpal
In a tournament that is about to feature teams of the standard of Olympic Games, one could be forgiven for seeing this as a dress rehearsal for the showpiece event in 2020. With such high stakes, let’s take you through the teams most likely to take away the gold and their closest challengers:
There is no thread of favourites in table tennis which can afford to exclude the behemoth that is Team China. Led by the current World no.1, 2, 3 and 4, the men’s team is comprised of Xu Xin, Fan Zhendong, Ma Long and Lin Gaoyuan alongside 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Portugal Open winner Liang Jingkun. In fact, the former four of this line-up just so happen to be the reigning champions from the 2018 Team World Cup in London!
Team China’s men’s line-up is evenly matched by the women’s side, for whom leading the charge will be another set of 2018 champions in Ding Ning, Liu Shiwen, Wang Manyu with an elite pair joining them – the World no.1 Chen Meng and the rising star of China, Sun Yingsha.
There is a serious ruthlessness about Team China going into these championships. Every one of their athletes is pumped and have gold in their sights. Will anyone be able to stop them?
The European contingent is well represented at the Word Cup this winter, and while Team Germany will only have their men’s team as qualified contestants, they are sure to be more than a handful for everyone.
German legend Timo Boll will have another outing in the tournament, this time playing in a city he has now successfully qualified to appear again in next year’s Olympic Games. That will give the former World no.1 a huge boost of confidence. Helping him in the quest for gold will be close friends Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Patrick Franziska, Ruwen Filus and Ricardo Walther.
In London last year, the Germans came up early on against the Chinese which ended their pursuit at the quarter-final stage. However, as this year’s European Games champions, they will have more than just momentum on their side – both Ovtcharov and Franziska have been in consistent form across the World Tour and well, with Timo Boll in your side, nothing is impossible.
Providing an elite contingent across both events, the Japanese teams will have a strong list of names competing at home with an extra bit of motivation to give their fans a preview of things to come next year.
For the men’s team, the in-form Tomokazu Harimoto – 2019 ITTF World Tour Bulgaria Open winner – will be the perfect speed demon to attack opponents while his teammates Maharu Yoshimura and Koki Niwa adjust the pace of the match to their liking. There will also be enough experience to complete the youthful exuberance with Jun Mizutani and Takuya Jin completing the line-up.
Reaching the final stage of the 2018 ITTF Team World Cup, expectations will be very high for the women’s team event where the effervescent Mima Ito and Miu Hirano will be present, with the former fresh off two final appearances at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open. Helping them along with their immense quality will be 2019 ITTF Challenge Thailand Open winner Hitomi Sato and double Olympic Games team medallist Kasumi Ishikawa [silver in 2012, bronze in 2016].
Team Korea Republic
There can never be a table tennis tournament without extreme competition, and it would be thus unwise to look over the obvious challengers for the crown in Tokyo. The South Korean side arriving shortly in Japan 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 lending her experience, as well as the youngster who has a history of beating Japanese athletes: Choi Hyojoo.
Semi-finalists in London, the men’s team for Korea Republic will have seasoned veterans Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu leading the side after impressive showings on the World Tour this year. The team will also field Lim Jonghoon as well as attackers Jang Woojin and Cho Daeseong.
Another European team with a single event side, Team Romania will pin high hopes on their women’s squad to go even better than the quarter-finals finish achieved at the 2018 version of the Team World Cup.
Gold-medallists at the 2019 European Championships, Romania will be led by Bernadette Szocs, Daniela Monteiro Dodean and Elizabeta Samara. Butterfly 2019 European Under 21 champion Adina Diaconu will additionally provide her extremely fast brand of play across the table – something highly recommended for the fans to enjoy.
Team Chinese Taipei
Coming back to double event challengers, Chinese Taipei will consider themselves strong outsiders if their best athletes are in form. 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 men’s team lines up. Assisting his efforts will be Chen Chien‐An, Liao Cheng-Ting, Peng Wang‐Wei and Wang Tai‐Wei.
Women’s singles quarter-finalist at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Cheng I-Ching will lead the way for Team Chinese Taipei, with her side comprising of Chen Szu‐Yu, shakehand grip attacker Liu Hsing‐Yin, and the vastly experienced Cheng Hsien‐Tzu and Su Pei‐Ling. They will certainly want to go beyond the last eight as they did in London and with such names on the docket, it would be prudent to ignore their challenge.
The Dark Horses
Coming to the unexpected shockers in the sport, Team Brazil is always up to something daring. With triple medallist at the 2019 Pan American Games Hugo Calderano in their ranks, his teammates Gustavo Tsuboi, Vitor Ishiy and Eric Jouti will feel they can certain upset the order of play and even make it past the quarter-final finish they had in 2018.
For the women’s side, Bruna Takahashi will lead the line-up and hope to make it to the final draw this time around. Assisting her will be Jessica Yamada and Caroline Kumahara.
Finally, even with the absence of Mattias Falck, Team Sweden will want to leave a mark on the proceedings in Japan as they compete in the men’s team event. Kristian Karlsson and Jon Persson will have 2019 ITTF Challenge Croatia Open champion Anton Källberg for company, as well as upcoming prodigy Truls Moregard. How far can they go in Tokyo?
Who else will light up Tokyo?
As always, world events in table tennis have the top most competitive athletes competing from all over the globe. Other teams like Australia, England and Nigeria will certainly add bite to the men’s team competition. Similarly, teams from Vanuatu, Egypt, Hong Kong and Ukraine bring the best of women’s athletes to Japan, hoping for the Olympic Games venue to boost their chances at achieving something special.
Meanwhile, Team Austria and Team USA will be back to fight across both fronts with their vigor and eye for glory. One thing is for certain, the fans will have their hands full of exciting matches across all fronts!