by Ian Marshall, Editor
Notably on the all time Olympic Games table tennis list, Korea Republic stands in second position with a 18 medals, well behind China with 53 in total but well ahead of their nearest rivals, Germany who own seven in number.
In Gondomar for the men the mantle of responsibility falls on the shoulders of An Jaehyun, Jang Woojin, Jeoung Youngsik, Lee Sangsu and Lim Jonghoon; for the women it is Choi Hyojoo, Jeon Jihee, Shin Yubin, Suh Hyowon and Yang Haeun.
Both outfits start as favourites to reserve one of the nine places available in each of the men’s team and women’s team events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games; the men occupy the top seeded position in Gondomar, the women, the fourth behind Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Singapore.
Cause for concern
However, should there not be some cause for concern amongst Korea Republic supporters? None of the team members present in Portugal have really uprooted trees in the past year.
Against the odds, Lee Sangsu reached the men’s singles semi-finals at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships and later in the year the same round at the ITTF World Tour German Open; since those performances there has been very little to catch the eye.
Considering men’s singles events, it is somewhat the same for Jang Woojin and Lim Jonghoon. Following his success on the ITTF World Tour on home soil in Daejeon in July 2018, Jang Woojin has not hit the headlines; neither has Lim Jonghoon who won on the ITTF Challenge Series won earlier in the same year in Poland. Notably, Lim Jonghoon was not selected for the Liebherr 2019 World Championships.
In recent months the players to raise the eyebrows have been An Jaehyun and Jeoung Youngsik; both have notable successes. An Jaehyun beat Jang Woojin to reach the men’s singles semi-final at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships; impressively Jeoung Youngsik progressed to the same round on the ITTF World Tour in Busan and in Bremen. Most significantly in the former at the quarter-final stage he beat China’s Fan Zhendong.
Likewise in 2019, the women did not hit the headlines. In women’s singles events, on the ITTF World Tour Jeon Jihee advanced to the quarter-finals in Busan and at the Czech Open in Olomouc, as did Suh Hyowon in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, at ITTF Challenge Series tournaments, Suh Hyowon reached the last eight in Poland, Yang Haeun was a semi-finalist in Poland. Similarly, Shin Yubin was a quarter-finalist in Croatia; for Choi Hyjoo early round exits were the order.
Arguably for the women, 15 year old Shin Yubin was the player to excel expectations; hitting the headlines when she partnered Cho Daeseong to mixed doubles gold at the ITTF World Tour Czech Open.
Ace in pack
Now is that where the Korea Republic has an ace in the pack?
Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu ended the year at the top of the ITTF World Tour men’s doubles standings, they won in Australia and Bulgaria; on home turf and in Austria, they were the runners up. Also turn the clock back just over one year, Jang Woojin and Lim Jonghoon emerged the winners at the 2018 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.
Somewhat similar for the women, Jeon Jihee and Yang Haeun ended the year in second spot on the ITTF World Tour women’s doubles standings. They won in Germany, finishing in runners up spot in Australia and at the Grand Finals; also Choi Hyojoo and Yang Haeun reached the final in Busan.
Only one defeat
Notable performances, in the Olympic Games team system, fixtures commence with doubles. A good start, confidence blossoms, the opponents are under a degree of pressure and who knows what may happen?
Consider the ZEN-NOH 2019 Team World Cup; silver for the men, bronze for the women. Selecting Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu throughout, the duo lost just one match. They experienced defeat by the very narrowest of margins when facing Sweden’s Kristian Karlsson and Jon Persson (11-6, 5-11, 11-7, 10-12, 11-9). Most notably, in the final against China they recovered from a two games to nil deficit to beat Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun (8-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-7, 12-10).
One defeat for men, for the women’s doubles pairs at the ZEN-NOH 2019 Team World Cup, the record was perfect; moreover, very significant results against pairs who they could potentially meet in Tokyo.
Jeon Jihee and Yang Haeun beat Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem and Lee Ho Ching (11-3, 11-9, 11-2), followed by success against Ukraine’s Tetyana Bilenko and Ganna Gaponova (11-6, 11-8, 11-9).
Furthermore, when Shin Yubin partnered Jeon Jihee there was success against pairs already bound for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. They overcame Brazil’s Caroline Kumahara and Jessica Yamada (11-5, 11-6, 11-8) prior to most significantly overcoming Kasumi Ishikawa and Miu Hirano (11-7, 11-8, 7-11, 12-10) in the contest against Japan. In fact, the third game against Kasumi Ishikawa and Miu Hirano was only women’s doubles game surrendered in Tokyo!
Doubles a strength, how pertinent could that prove? In Gondomar facing teams hungry to taste the Olympic experience, it could emerge a vital factor.