by Kabir Nagpal
Zhu Yuling (CHN)
For Zhu Yuling, coming up in an age of Chinese heroines like Ding Ning, Chen Meng and even her opponent in this tournament – Liu Shiwen, it is often that she is overlooked as potentially the best of them all. This to be fair, would be very ignorant given her track record at elite level over the past few years.
The triple ITTF Asian Cup winner in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – has been rightfully seeded first for this World Cup, which also happens to be her fourth appearance at the tournament, having reached the final twice and winning it once (2017). Will the World no.3 justify her top seeding? It would be a tough bet to make against her.
Liu Shiwen (CHN)
In table tennis, there’s a very young age at which athletes are termed as ‘veterans’. At 28, Liu Shiwen has reached that pedestal where she is practically both a veteran and in her prime. World champion Liu has been exemplary in her career to date, picking up trophies left, right and centre and none more so than the World Cup she is about to contest in – she attempts to win an unprecedented fifth gold medal!
Winner in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2015 Liu has made this territory her own in a fashion like no other. At the 2012 event, Liu lost a grand total of two – yes, just two – games on her way to glory. She repeated the feat in 2015 and is probably the nightmare draw for any of the warriors qualifying from the groups. You don’t want to miss out on her matches!
Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN)
Japanese attacker Kasumi Ishikawa is certainly fired up to reach the World Cup here in Chengdu, as her performances in the Asian Cup provided further evidence of that. Reaching third place in such a highly-contested tournament was no mean feat, and speaks to her ability to battle it hard for what she wants.
Making her seventh appearance at the Women’s World Cup, Ishikawa looks to be in the mood to push on from her previous best finish of runner-up in 2015. Having lost in the final to a menacing Liu Shiwen that time, Ishikawa can feel the luck of the draw might just favour the third seed this time around.
Miu Hirano (JPN)
At 19 years of age, Miu Hirano has a quite a huge fan following across Asia, let alone her native Japan. Finishing sixth in the Asian Cup qualified her for the World Cup, which is a tournament she knows well as she makes her third appearance here. Funnily enough, it was her debut appearance which made her the apple of everyone’s eye in 2016.
Winner by sheer youthful exuberance, Hirano had a stunning run of victories over fellow compatriot Mima Ito, Singapore’s Feng Tianwei and Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching in the final. The then 16-year-old made people look up and since that time, the teenager has often left other athletes in her awe. Is that the fate of her opponents this year too?
Cheng I-Ching (TPE)
When an athlete has not finished outside the top three at the Women’s World Cup for three consistent years, you have to take her challenge for the crown seriously. For the fifth seed from Chinese Taipei, Cheng I-Ching plans on being her same consistent self in the coming few days.
Making her 6th appearance at the tournament, the 27-year-old has a host of experience to rely on as she battles to make it to another final following her 2016 run. Qualifying with her eighth place finish at the Asian Cup, Cheng will want to show her talent again on the grand stage in Chengdu.
Doo Hoi Kem (HKG)
Doo Hoi Kem has had a pretty impressive 2019, with consistent finishes across the ITTF World Tour, however more so in doubles than singles. This will be her fourth World Cup, having enjoyed a previous best finish of reaching the quarter-finals in 2018.
She has had an upward curve in this tournament, as she started in 2016 with a group stage finish, reached the round of 16 in 2017 and the last eight in 2018. In every single event, she has proved a difficult opponent for her rivals, often pushing them to a deciding game. Can she use that as confidence to finish even higher in Chengdu?
Feng Tianwei (SGP)
What a fortnight it has been for the Singaporean veteran. Not only did she beat the World no.1 Chen Meng at the ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open, she did so in straight games – something unheard of against Chen. This happened in conjunction with her amazing comeback against Germany’s Shan Xiaona who led 0-3, but Feng spun the tables to win 4-3.
By finishing fourth at the Asian Cup, she qualified for a gigantic ninth World Cup since her debut in 2008. She has finished in the top four on six occasion and by no means does she plan on finishing any lower than that this time out!
Sofia Polcanova (AUT)
Finally, the eighth seed hails from Austria, making her the top European seed. Sofia Polcanova finished third at the 2019 Europe Top 16 Cup event, displaying her very powerful forehand across every match she played.
The 25-year-old left-handed attacker reached the quarter-finals in 2018, seeing off Doo Hoi Kem in the process, going one better than her finish in 2016. Being in the main draw from the off will favour her this time out, as she will want to prove her seeding and her place amongst the table tennis elite.