01 Nov 2019

Ukraine’s Yaroslav Zhmudenko and China’s Feng Yalan, the leading players on duty in the qualification stage of the respective men’s singles and women’s singles events at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Belgosstrakh Belarus Open in Minsk, duly remained unbeaten to secure first places in their group contests.

However, to a great extent on Thursday 31st October, they were the exception rather than the rule.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

There were plenty of surprises and one wonders in the women’s singles event, since the ITTF World Tour commenced in 1996 and in those days included what we now consider challenge series tournaments, was a record set?

A total of 32 groups in the first stage, players finishing in top spot joining the 32 seeds in the main draw, no less than 17 groups produced surprise winners.

On the opening day of action, Russia’s Dora Chernoray had secured first place against the odds; on the second day Germany’s Yuki Tsutsui alongside Poland’s Julia Szymczak, Julia Slazak and Katarzyna Wegrzyn followed suit, as did the Czech Republic’s Karolina Mynarova and Zdena Blaskova.

Success contrary to expectations for Europe but it was the Asian army that excelled and defied the status quo. China led the way, Shi Xunyao, Wu Yangchen, Chen Yi, Kuai Man, Yang Yiyun and Wang Xiaotong all ended the day unbeaten and in first positions. Similarly Malaysia’s Alice Sian Chiang Li excelled, Korea Republic’s Lee Nakyung, Kim Mingyung and Kim Haeun achieved the same distinction.

Add the fact that as expected, in addition to Feng Yalan, colleagues Fan Siqi and Yang Huijing topped their groups, the opening round of the women’s singles event could prove very interesting.

First group place for Kuai Man (Photo: courtesy of Belgosstrakh Belarus Open)
Similar situation

Likewise in the men’s singles event, a host of surprise names gained main draw places; in fact the number almost matched the women. It was 15 in total.

On the opening day of play Hungary’s Lu Kaiyang had reserved his main draw place against the odds. On the second day of action colleague Sai Linwei did the same; a feat that was matched by Frenchman Alexandre Cassin, Poland’s Samuel Kulczycki, Germany’s Meng Fanbo and Ukraine’s Anton Limonov.

Six unexpected first places in the groups where first place meant a direct entry to the main draw. Lower down the order, where those who topped their groups and were required to play a further preliminary round to gain qualification, there were nine more surprise names.

Japan’s Hiroto Shinosuka and Takeru Kashikwa emerged in unexpected group first places and then gained preliminary round success. It was the same for Russia’s Maxim Chaplygin but it was China that ruled as upsets prevailed. Xie Congfan, Xu Haidong, Yuan Licen, Yan Sheng, Zhao Zhaoyuan and Gao Yang all progressed to the main draw.

Now add compatriot Xu Yingbin, the winner at the recent 2019 ITTF Challenge Polish Open to the equation who advanced as his status advises; the opening round of the men’s singles event may produce more than one upset!

Hiroto Shinozuka made his presence known (Photo: courtesy of Belgosstrakh Belarus Open)
Surprise quarter-finalists

An unexpected second round place for Hiroto Shinozuka in the men’s singles event, in the under 21 men’s singles competition, he also caused an upset. The no.35 rated player on duty, after on the opening day having beaten Russia’s Denis Ivonin, the no.2 seed (12-10, 11-8, 11-7), he continued his fine form. He ended the hopes of Poland’s Samuel Kulczycki, the no.32 seed (11-7, 11-9, 11-6), followed by success against Spain’s Alberto Lillo (11-4, 11-4, 11-5)

Similarly, there was surprise progress for Moldova’s Andrei Putuntica, the no.22 seed, alongside China’s Sai Linwei, listed at no.45 in the order of merit and colleague Nui Guankai, a player with no current world ranking in the under 21 men’s age group.

Notably, Andrei Putuntica ousted Poland’s Jan Zandecki (11-9, 11-7, 11-8, 6-11, 11-8), the winner the previous day in opposition to Frenchman Bastien Rembert, the no.3 seed (6-11, 12-10, 11-6, 11-7), prior to overcoming Frenchman, Irvin Bertrand, the no.26 seed (13-11, 6-11, 11-6, 11-13, 13-11).

Early exits for the second and third seeds, for the other two leading names it was success. Russia’s Vladimir Sidorenko, the top seed, beat England’s Tom Jarvis, the no.10 seed (11-8, 14-12, 7-11, 11-4) to book his last eight place. Similarly; Iran’s Amir Hodaei Hossein, the no.4 seed, prevailed in opposition to Belgium’s Florian Cnudde, the no.15 seed (8-11, 11-4, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9).

Amir Hodaei Hossein beat Florian Cnudde to keep under 21 men’s singles medal hopes alive (Photo: courtesy of Belgosstrakh Belarus Open)
Seeds fall

Surprises, in the under 21 men’s singles event, where also the quarter-finalists were decided, there were even more upsets in the counterpart women’s competition. In fact of the seeded players on Russia’s Valeria Shcherbatykh, the no.5 seed and Japan’s Maki Shiomi, the no.7 seed survived.

Notably, Belgium’s Lisa Lung, the top seed, suffered a second round exit at the hands of Poland’s Katarzyna Wegrzyn (11-6, 9-11, 11-8, 11-8); in the same round Russia’s Maria Malanina, the no.2 seed, lost the China’s Shi Xunyao (11-4, 11-4, 11-3).

One round earlier, Hungary’s Leonie Hartbrich, the no.3 seed, was beaten by Lucie Gauthier of France (11-5, 7-11, 11-5, 11-8), who then lost to Russia’s Kristina Kasantseva (7-11, 11-8, 11-7, 14-12); similarly, in the opening round Slovakia’s Tatiana Kukulkova, the no.4 seed  suffered against the Czech Republic’s Nikita Petrovova (14-12, 11-3, 11-8). Alas, she departed proceedings at the next hurdle when facing Serbia Tijana Jokic (11-9, 10-12, 11-3, 11-9).

A quarter-final place for Kristina Kazantseva (Photo: courtesy of Belgosstrakh Belarus Open)
Different scenarios

Meanwhile, as anticipated in the men’s doubles preliminary stage, Romania’s Cristian Pletea and Rares Sipos duly booked their main draw place as did the next in the order of merit Russia’s Vladimir Sidorenko and Kirill Skachkov.

Conversely, in the women’s doubles event life was very different, the highest rated departed. The Korea Republic emerged the nation in form. Kim Haeun and Lee Nakyung beat Slovakia’s Natalia Grigelova and Tatiana Kukulkova, the highest rated pair on preliminary stage duty (11-6, 11-9, 8-11, 4-11, 11-9); China’s Chen Yi and Wu Yangchen overcame the next rated, Belgium’s Margo Degraef and Lisa Lung (11-4, 11-4, 11-7). Alas the joy was short-lived. In their next match they lost to Kim Mingyung and Kim Yedam (7-11, 11-5, 12-10, 11-2) like Kim Haeun and Lee Nakyung from Korea Republic.

A main draw place for Kim Haeun (left) and (right) Lee Nakyung (Photo: courtesy of Belgosstrakh Belarus Open)


The main event commences on Friday 1st November, the first and second rounds of the men’s singles and women’s singles events will be completed, as will the opening round of the men’s doubles and women’s doubles. The quarter-finals of the under 21 men’s singles and under 21 women’s singles start the day.

Challenge Series 2019 Belarus Open Feng Yalan Yaroslav Zhmudenko

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Day 3 - 2019 ITTF Challenge Belarus Open