by James Francis
Following last week’s Swedish Open in Stockholm, the ITTF World Tour has shifted to the northern German city of Bremen, where several star players are battling it out for coveted points to reach the 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Zhengzhou, China.
This week’s German Open (main draw 10th – 13th October after two days of qualifying) is the penultimate Platinum World Tour event of the year, offering more points than regular events. Meanwhile, November’s Austrian Open in Linz represents the final opportunity for players to seal their spots for December’s annual showpiece. The top 16 places in the men’s and women’s singles competitions and the top 8 in men’s, women’s and mixed doubles categories will be lining up in Zhengzhou between 12th – 15th December.
Boll is back! Gauzy vs Xu Xin rematch, and more…
German table tennis legend Timo Boll returns to action on home soil. For the four-time German Open champion to win his first title at the tournament since 2009 would of course be the stuff of dreams. First and foremost, the 38-year-old is looking to accrue enough points to confirm his place at this year’s ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Zhengzhou. By competing in Bremen, Boll will have met the pre-requisite of five World Tour events during 2019, but currently occupying 15th place means he will not be taking any chances to avoid missing out on the top 16.
Boll could face Fan Zhendong (CHN) in the quarter-finals, with the world no.2 still looking for his first World Tour title of a below-par calendar year so far. Meanwhile, Germany could again be pitted against top Chinese opposition with Dimitrij Ovtcharov in line to face Liang Jingkun and Patrick Franziska against Lin Gaoyuan in the round of 16.
With reigning German Open champion Ma Long absent in Bremen, Xu Xin completes China’s seeds in the men’s singles draw. The world no.1 locks horns with Frenchman Simon Gauzy in the first round today for a rematch of arguably the most entertaining contest of this year’s World Championships in Budapest (and even the year as a whole) when Gauzy triumphed 4-2.
“I feel quite confident at present. I’ve won many matches lately, many close matches, so I’m feeling good heading into this.” – Simon Gauzy
The winner between Xu and Gauzy could meet Hugo Calderano (BRA) in the quarter-final, although both Wong Chun Ting (HKG) and Lee Sangsu (KOR) will be battling hard in that section of the draw for much-needed World Tour points. They currently sit in 16th and 18th places respectively.
Lin Yun-Ju (TPE) also returns to international action for the first time since winning August’s Czech Open. He could face another man desperately searching for points in 19th-placed Koki Niwa (JPN), while Tomokazu Harimoto (JPN) could be taking on Liam Pitchford (ENG) in the last 16.
Chen Meng wants milestone win; can Mima Ito trouble Chinese again?
China’s and the world’s no.1 women’s player, Chen Meng is out to make history in Bremen. The 25-year-old took her tally to four women’s singles titles on this year’s ITTF World Tour after victory at the Swedish Open. Further honours in Germany would see her equal the record of five women’s singles gold medals in the same calendar year, held since 2003 by Chinese great Zhang Yining.
Japan’s Mima Ito is also enjoying a rich vein of form: the 18-year-old defeated two of China’s brightest female stars in Wang Manyu and Sun Yingsha last week in Stockholm, before losing out to the more established and experienced Chen Meng.
The difficulty in overcoming Ito, however, was certainly not lost on the world no.1, who had this to say after completing a spirited fightback from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in the final:
“Mima Ito has beaten six of my team-mates here (in Sweden, between 2018 and 2019). Her rise has been incredibly fast. It was much more difficult playing against her today than when I faced her several years ago. Each point was a real contest. I’m delighted to have won in Sweden, now I must prepare for Germany.” – Chen Meng
Ito, a German Open champion in 2015, could be set to face last year’s winner and Japanese team-mate, Kasumi Ishikawa, in the quarter-finals, while a potential rematch against Chen Meng would follow in the semi-finals.
On the other side of the draw, Wang Manyu and Sun Yingsha are favourites to cross paths in the last four, although they will have to navigate their way past a few potential banana skins along the way:
In the first round, Wang faces Chinese chopper Liu Fei, who impressed on reaching the semi-finals in Sweden and, positioned 20th in the World Tour standings, is eager to add to her points tally in a bid to reach the World Tour Grand Finals. Also featuring in that half of the draw are this summer’s Czech Open finalists, Miu Hirano (JPN) and Chen Xingtong (CHN), the latter winning women’s singles gold both in Bulgaria and Czech Republic.
Doubles specialists back on show
The return to action of Lin Yun-Ju sees the Chinese Taipei prodigy partner Liao Cheng-Ting as top seeds in the men’s doubles, while German duo Timo Boll and Patrick Franziska link up again, looking for further glory after famously claiming gold at this year’s China Open.
Also on show are mixed nationality pair, Ovidiu Ionescu (ROU) and Alvaro Robles (ESP), who lit up the World Championships in Budapest by winning silver. For Korea Republic, Jeoung Youngsik teams up with Jang Woojin, instead of usual partner Lee Sangsu, who face Iranian brothers Nima Alamian and Noshad Alamiyan – strong performers in September’s Asian Championships – in the first round.
Chinese pairs Fan Zhendong & Lin Gaoyuan and Xu Xin & Liang Jingkun are in the same half of the draw, with the latter facing Brazilian up and coming stars Vitor Ishiy and Eric Jouti in the first round.
In the women’s doubles, world champions Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu are the top seeds and could meet compatriots Chen Meng and Gu Yuting in the final. Japanese second seeds Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki start their campaign against Poland’s Natalia Bajor and Olympian / Paralympian star Natalia Partyka.
Mixed nationality pairs are out in force: Barbora Balazova (SVK) with Hana Matelova (CZE), Sofia Polcanova (AUT) with Bernadette Szocs (ROU), and Elizabeta Samara (ROU) with Adriana Diaz (PUR):
“This is the first time that we are playing together and we just want to enjoy it. We know each other since Adriana was a small girl, we are friends. Adriana knows my dad, contacted him and offered to play doubles with me. We thought it was a very good idea and it turns out now that it really was.” – Elizabeta Samara
China has sent no mixed doubles pairs to Bremen, meaning the top three seeds are as follows: Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem (HKG), Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching (TPE) and Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito (JPN). World Championships bronze medallists, Patrick Franziska and Petrissa Solja (GER) will be looking for another strong showing in front of home support.
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