by Kabir Nagpal
It is an exciting group that will compete in the initial stage.
No.9 Dimitrij Ovtcharov
The former world no.1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov comes into Chengdu with his held head high as the Europe Top 16 Cup winner for the third time in his four years. The German machine is making his 12th appearance at the Men’s World Cup.
Winner of the title in 2017 at Liège, this is a tournament where Ovtcharov has often pushed himself to beat any expectations set of him pre-event. A fourth place finish last year in Paris, the minimum target Ovtcharov will have set for himself will be the podium in China.
No.10 Lee Sangsu
Often seen as a mighty threat in team and doubles events, Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu has been equally as productive on his own. The world no.18 qualified for his fourth consecutive appearance at a Men’s World Cup tournament after finishing seventh at the Asian Cup.
He has previously finished twice at the quarter-final stage in Paris and Saarbrücken, both times coming ever so close to the semi-finals. The 29 year old shake hand attacker has the podium in his sights this year as he plays with renewed vigor and bite.
No.11 Quadri Aruna
The withdrawal of Hong Kong China’s Wong Chun Ting owing to the injury he sustained at the T2 Diamond in Singapore last week, Quadri Aruna has been selected as his replacement at the Men’s World Cup. Bronze medallist at the 2019 ITTF Africa Cup, the Nigerian has always been a regular at world ttle events. He is no stranger to pushing the table tennis elite to the limit.
Playing his fifth men’s World Cup, Aruna will want to better his best quarter-final finish from five years ago in Düsseldorf. Winner of the ITTF Challenge Plus event in Lagos, that will be the form he looks to channel in Chengdu from the group stages onwards.
No.12 Simon Gauzy
France’s world no. 22, Simon Gauzy is no stranger to the stage of the Men’s World Cup, where he has previously shown his magic for all his fans to gather together and revel.
Having finished at the round of 16 stage last year in Paris, Gauzy will wish for his fifth World Cup appearance to be one where he pushes to reach the podium, having just missed out on it at Liège in 2017. The 25 year old has had a steady 2019 ITTF World Tour and may possibly use his stable performance ratio to manoeuver a strong end to his year.
No.13 Vladimir Samsonov
Teenagers on show in Chengdu, there also happens to be a list of veterans whose fitness often puts the aforementioned to shame. One of them is Belarussian Vladimir Samsonov, the runner up at the 2019 Europe Top 16 Cup, sending him on a task of matching the record four World Cup titles of the China’s Ma Lin.
Samsonov is the only competing player in Chengdu this week who played in this tournament in the last century. The world no.23 will look forward to channelling his full fitness to add to his three previous World Cups (1999 in Xiaolan, 2001 in Courmayeur, 2009 in Moscow) as well as three bronze (1996, 1997, 2012) and one silver medal (2013) finishes.
No.14 Jonathan Groth
The world no. 24 finished at the last 16 stage in 2018 version and for Denmark’s top athlete, it was still a worthy debut finish. Jonathan Groth has since struggled to move into the latter stages of the World Tour events this season but showed plenty of promise each time he came up against top opposition.
Securing a place in this year’s edition with a strong display at the Europe Top 16 Cup, Groth might be one of the dark horses to watch out for. As a left-handed attacker, he brings a sense of unpredictability in his returns, something not everyone on this roster will be ready for.
No.15 Kristian Karlsson
Another top European candidate follows as seeded 15th in the tournament, Sweden’s Kristian Karlsson who is about to make his third appearance at the World Cup. Having missed out on the last two editions, Karlsson will have the opportunity to better his fourth place finish in Saarbrücken, 2016.
Ranked no. 25 in the world, the Swedish attacker came close to glory this year when he finished runner up at the ITTF Challenge Croatia Open in Zagreb. Having missed out on the World Tour Grand Finals, his performance at the Men’s World Cup still has the potential to turn 2019 into one of his favourite years.
No.16 Kanak Jha
The German based Youth Olympic Games bronze medallist has certainly made good on his promise to push the profile of the United States in table tennis this year. After giving the legendary Ma Long plenty to think about at the Liebherr World Championships in Budapest, the runner up at the Universal 2019 Pan America Cup is set to make a thrilling run at the Men’s World Cup.
Having competed in six World Championships already, 19 year old Kanak Jha has plenty of experience to call upon as he faces an uphill task to qualify from the group stages. Given his attacking style of play, his potential for a medal in Chengdu will again raise eyebrows across the table tennis spectrum.
No.17 Sathiyan Gnanasekaran
For India’s Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, the last few months have been nothing short of special. Finishing sixth at the ITTF-ATTU Lion Asian Cup was by no means the highlight of his time in Yokohoma. He defeated the Japanese star Tomokazu Harimoto in straight games to change the manner in which the world no.30 is approached.
This summer, Gnanasekaran became the first Indian to reach the quarter-finals stage in 43 years since the Asian Table Tennis Union started organising the tournament in 1972. It’s safe to say, he will not come into the World Cup as an underdog but more of a threat to anyone who takes the Indian lightly!
No. 18 Omar Assar
ITTF African Cup winner, Egypt’s Omar Assar has rarely disappointed at the grand stages for his followers across the globe. A double Olympian for his country, he is set to make his third appearance at the men’s World Cup in Chengdu.
He has yet to make it past the round of 16 in his two attempts, one would be unwise to bet against him making out of the group stages in style. The world no. 34 brings the hopes of a continent with him and that might just shift the momentum in his favor should he get going.
No.19 Daniel Habesohn
Austria’s 2016 Rio Games Olympian Daniel Habesohn has had a very productive year with his fourth place finish at the Europe Top 16 Cup coming at a time where his form was truly peaking.
The 33 year old shake hand attacker has performed very well with his compatriot Robert Gardos at men’s doubles events, securing a bronze finish in Olomouc at the Czech Open. However, this will be his first ever Men’s World Cup participation, assuring us all that there really is no age to stop dreaming. One can only imagine how valuable his experience will be in Chengdu.
No.20 Heming Hu
Australia’s Heming Hu will be representing Oceania at the Men’s World Cup with pride, having being crowned the Oceania Cup winner earlier this year. The 25 year old is making his second consecutive appearance at the competition, having been unable to make it out of the group stages in Paris.
Despite having a world ranking of no.75, Hu is not to be taken lightly; his shakehand attacking style is often too strong to play on the counter. Everyone could be in for a surprise should he cause an upset in China later this week!