The Men’s World Cup forms part of the Grand Slam trio of titles, alongside the Olympic Games and World Championships. Whoever celebrates this Sunday will have to navigate their way past a highly competitive field of talent, stretching the entire globe.
That is because the all-star event features a series of former Men’s World Cup winners: reigning world champion, Ma Long of China (Men’s World Cup winner in 2012 & 2015), world no. 1, Fan Zhendong of China (2016, 2018), Timo Boll of Germany (2002, 2005), Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany (2017) and Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus (1999, 2001, 2009).
While Fan Zhendong and Ovtcharov qualified as Asian and Europe Cup champions respectively, the Men’s World Cup also features Africa Cup champion, Omar Assar (Egypt), Pan American Cup champion Hugo Calderano (Brazil) and Oceania Cup champion Heming Hu (Australia), as well as a whole host of household names, who also qualified via their Continental Cups, plus wild card Mattias Falck (Sweden), whose highlight of the year was undoubtedly his silver medal at the 2019 World Table Tennis Championships.
Let the group stage begin!
Friday 29th November is dedicated to the group stage, where the players seeded 9th to 20th play off against one another in a bid to reach the weekend’s knockout rounds.
The top two players from each group will qualify for the main draw, where they will be pitted against the 1st to 8th seeds.
Let’s take a look at the groups in detail:
Group A: European extravaganza
The highest seeded player involved in group action, Dimitrij Ovtcharov has been handed a difficult draw. The German world no. 12 faces Belarussian legend Vladimir Samsonov and Men’s World Cup debut maker, Austria’s Daniel Habesohn, thus providing an all-European affair.
Undeniably the standout match sees Ovtcharov and Samsonov meet in a clash of former Men’s World Cup champions. Meanwhile, Habesohn booked his Men’s World Cup ticket following a noteworthy fourth position finish at the Europe Top 16 Cup competition in February.
“I think it’s quite unlucky, I’m drawn into the hardest group. Obviously it’s my first Men’s World Cup appearance. With a group like this, it’s hard for me, but I’ll try my best and see.” – Daniel Habesohn
Group B: An opportunity for revenge
Meeting face-to-face at exactly the same stage in 2017, Korea Republic’s Lee Sangsu and fast-rising United States prodigy Kanak Jha have been placed in the same group. Egypt’s Omar Assar, the 2019 Africa Cup champion, completes the line-up.
Seeded 10th in Chengdu, Lee heads into Friday’s action as favourite to progress from the group and will draw heart from his victory over Jha at the 2017 event. On the flip side, Jha will be out for revenge this time and is looking to reach the round of 16 for the second year running. Meanwhile, the powerful Assar is searching to return to the main draw for the first time since 2015.
Group C: Group of unpredictability
A late addition to the roster following the withdrawal through injury of Hong Kong China’s Wong Chun Ting, the dynamic Quadri Aruna is keen to make his presence felt on his sixth Men’s World Cup appearance. The Nigerian will meet Sweden’s 2016 Men’s World Cup semi-finalist Kristian Karlsson and Australia’s Heming Hu.
Eliminated in round one last year in Disneyland Paris, Aruna will be hoping to avoid the same fate in Chengdu but is faced with an air of uncertainty. Only on one prior occasion has Aruna faced Karlsson at an international ranking competition and that was on the ITTF World Tour in Poland; Aruna won in straight games. Hu has never been involved in a head-to-head with either player on the international scene.
Group D: Three G’s fighting over two qualification places
Simon Gauzy, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Jonathan Groth. Otherwise known as the “three G’s.” Frenchman Gauzy is the highest seeded player in the group while India’s Gnanasekaran and Denmark’s Groth occupy the two remaining spots.
Finishing fourth at the 2017 edition of the event, Gauzy knows the secret ingredient when it comes to enjoying a successful campaign on the Men’s World Cup stage, but he’ll need to be at his best right from the start.
The first Indian player to reach the quarter-finals stage of an ITTF Asian Cup, Gnanasekaran will be desperate to impress on his Men’s World Cup debut, while Groth knows how to negotiate group-stage action, having reached the round of 16 last year.
“I’m a little bit anxious, but I will calm down and prepare with my coach. We’ll work on strategy, give our best, and you can’t control the results. I’m here to have fun and really give my all.” – Sathiyan Gnanasekaran