by Kabir Nagpal
It’s always hard to look towards the top and not find it crowded by a sea of familiar faces.
Ma Long, Olympic and World champion, Fan Zhendong the recent winner of the Chengdu Airlines 2019 Men’s World Cup all appear on the entry list. Likewise, Chinese national team colleague, Xu Xin, ITTF World Tour winner this year in Japan, Korea and Australia, is named. Notably from Europe, Germany’s Timo Boll, gold medallist at the European Games, will ply his skills.
However, there is a fresh name in the mix this year.
Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju appears on the list having made waves throughout this calendar year. Lin most recently has moved to a career high no.7 on the world rankings, after beating Ma Long to a bronze medal finish in Chengdu!
Add the fact that earlier this year on the ITTF World Tour he won in the Czech Republic; his efforts bode well for the Grand Finals.
However, he is not the only teenager to be considered a major challenger for honours; Tomokazu Harimoto, the defending champion, also joins the party in Zhengzhou. Last year in Incheon, at the age of 15 years and 172 days, Harimoto broke all records to become the youngest ever men’s singles champion at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.
A year later and he is ready to defend his crown, gold in Bulgaria, silver at Hong Kong as well as the runners up position at the Men’s World Cup are all in his backpack.
Defending the title will be a tough task with other previous winners on show. Back in the no.1 spot on the world rankings, Xu Xin won in 2012 in Hangzhou and in 2013 in Dubai; Fan claimed the title in 2017 in Astana. Ma Long has won five times, Timo Boll succeeded in 2005.
The dark horses
Meanwhile, there are plenty of athletes on show in Zhengzhou who it would be imprudent to ignore as possible winners. The pick of the bunch is China’s Lin Gaoyuan. He had the best start to the 2019 World Tour; he won in Hungary and Hong Kong, Lin has set a clear marker as to his intention to reach the Grand Finals.
In his way will stand his compatriot Liang Jingkun and the Sweden’s Mattias Falck. Liang as a semi-finalist at the Liebherr 2018 World Championships in April, the tournament in which Falck excelled reaching the final.
In addition, on the same day in February, Brazil’s Hugo Calderano won the Universal 2019 Pan America Cup; Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov secured victory at the CCB 2019 Europe Top 16 tournament.
Major names but there are others who can most certainly upset the order.
Leading that panel is another German, Patrick Franziska, he consistently reached the latter stages on this year’s ITTF World Tour. Very much in the same category is Japan’s Jun Mizutani, the winner at the Grand Finals in Seoul in 2010 and Bangkok in 2014.
Meanwhile, always competitive, Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik and Hong Kong China’s Wong Chun Ting, alongside the host nation’s Zhao Zihao are all players who can make an impact.
Who will stake a claim in the coming fortnight?