by James Francis
The moment of truth has arrived with Wednesday’s draw ceremony revealing a series of epic contests to decide who will be champions of the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, taking place between Thursday 12th and Sunday 15th December in Zhengzhou, China.
Mixed Doubles: Tickets to Tokyo 2020 for semi-finalists!
Most significantly, there are highly coveted places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on offer for the four mixed doubles pairs who reach the semi-finals of the 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals. That means that successful partners will be seen celebrating Olympic qualification as early as Thursday if they manage to get past their first round matches.
Top seeds Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong China will kick off their campaign against Slovakians Lubomir Pistej and Barbora Balazova. China’s world champion pairing of Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen face off against Korea Republic’s prodigious teenage talents Cho Daeseong and Shin Yubin.
Japanese duo Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani are vying to seal their Olympics spot on home soil when they do battle with France’s Tristan Flore and Laura Gasnier. Meanwhile, 2nd seeds Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching of Chinese Taipei must navigate their way past Adam Szudi and Szandra Pergel of Hungary.
Men’s Singles: Timo Boll and Fan Zhendong meet again
Seeded 2nd for the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, China’s Fan Zhendong faces off against German legend Timo Boll as the world no.2 bids to reclaim the title he first won in 2017 in Astana. Boll, the Grand Finals champion in 2005 in Fuzhou, has faced defeat to Fan twice already in the last month, at the ITTF World Tour Austrian Open and ITTF Men’s World Cup, tournaments which the Chinese won on both occasions, as he enters the event in Zhengzhou in flying form.
Defending champion, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto, who became the youngest ever Grand Finals men’s singles winner in Incheon aged 15 years and 172 days at the time, starts his title defence against Germany’s Patrick Franziska, after which he could be set to face world no.1 and top seed Xu Xin, who opens against fellow Chinese Zhao Zihao.
China’s five-time Grand Finals champion Ma Long will lock horns with Jeoung Youngsik, Korea Republic’s most consistent performer in this year’s ITTF World Tour men’s singles competition. Runners up respectively at the 2017 and 2018 Grand Finals, Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov takes on China’s Lin Gaoyuan.
World Championships silver medallist, Mattias Falck of Sweden, will be up against Chinese Taipei’s teenage sensation Lin Yun-Ju; Brazil’s Hugo Calderano must overcome Japan’s two-time Grand Finals champion Jun Mizutani; Wong Chun Ting has overcome injury in time to line up against China’s Liang Jingkun.
Women’s Singles: Liu Shiwen and Chen Meng eye epic quarter-final clash
Having met in this year’s World Championships women’s singles final in Budapest, eventual champion Liu Shiwen could be set for a repeat battle against Chen Meng, who is looking for her third straight Grand Finals crown following triumphs in 2017 in Astana and 2018 in Incheon. The last player to win three in a row was Liu herself (2011, 2012, 2013) who is aiming to add to her World Championships and Women’s World Cup titles with what would be a record-equalling fourth Grand Finals women’s singles crown, matching Chinese great Zhang Yining’s historic achievement.
In order to set up another epic showdown in Zhengzhou, the Chinese superstars must navigate their way past eye-catching opponents: Liu locks horns with Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa, the 2014 Grand Finals champion in Bangkok; Chen takes on compatriot Qian Tianyi, the 2018 World Junior Champion who impressed en route to last month’s Austrian Open semi-finals.
Top seed Sun Yingsha must see off He Zhuojia, the 2018 runner-up in Incheon, while 2016 Grand Finals champion Zhu Yuling faces a tough first round match against Wang Manyu in the other all-Chinese encounter.
Mima Ito will be looking for revenge against Cheng I-Ching after the Chinese Taipei veteran eliminated the Japanese rising star at the first round in 2018 in Incheon. Ding Ning begins her quest for a first Grand Finals crown since 2015 in Lisbon with an opening tie against Japan’s Hitomi Sato.
Men’s Doubles: Battle of the pen-holders!
World no.1 and no.2 in the men’s singles, China’s Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong team up as 2nd seeds in the men’s doubles competition, where they immediately face Hong Hong China’s Wong Chun Ting and Ho Kwan Kit. Both pairs feature players, Xu and Wong, who adopt the pen-hold grip, often viewed as the ideal partner in the doubles game.
On the other side of the draw, Timo Boll and Patrick Franziska are engaged in an-German battle with Benedikt Duda and Qiu Dang. Chinese Taipei’s two pairs of Liao Cheng-Ting with Lin Yun-Ju and Chen Chien-An with Chuang Chih-Yuan are up against heavy hitters in Korea Republic’s top seeds Jeoung Youngsik with Lee Sangsu and China’s Lin Gaoyuan with Liang Jingkun respectively.
Women’s Doubles: World Champions and World Junior Champions on show
World Champions in Budapest, China’s Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu begin their Grand Finals journey against Hong Kong China’s Ng Wing Nam and Soo Wai Yam Minnie. It could be a case of World Champions taking on World Junior Champions in the semi-finals: Japan’s Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki, victorious in Korat, Thailand and top seeds this week in Zhengzhou, will need to navigate their way past mixed nationality pairing Barbora Balazova (Slovakia) and Hana Matelova (Czech Republic) in order to set up such a clash.
On the other side of the draw, 2nd seeds Jeon Jihee and Yang Haeun of Korea Republic take on Hong Kong China’s Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching, while Japan’s Miu Hirano and Saki Shibata face off against Chen Szu-Yu and Cheng Hsien-Tzu of Chinese Taipei.
ITTF Star Awards
Are you ready for the pre-Grand Finals main gala event? Follow all the glitz and glamour of the prestigious ITTF Star Awards 2019 right here, as the ceremony begins at 6:30 pm local time in Zhengzhou!
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