by Ian Marshall, Editor
Three years ago in January 2017, the Challenge Series became an entity in its own right, as opposed to being a member of the ITTF World Tour; since that date 22 year old Saki Shibata has been one of the most successful players. She has won five women’s singles titles and with 15 year old Satsuki Odo has emerged the women’s doubles champion on the same number of occasions.
In women’s singles events, she needs one more title to match colleague, Hina Hayata; in women’s doubles one more podium top step finish and the duo goes ahead of compatriots Hitomi Sato and Honoka Hashimoto.
Furthermore, the task would appear to be within possibilities. In the women’s singles event Saki Shibata is the no.2 seed; the women’s doubles, the partnership occupies the top seeded berth.
Germany’s Nina Mittelham is the women’s singles top seed; Honoka Hashimoto the no.3 seed ahead of Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin and Shan Xiaona, also from Germany. Italy’s Debora Vivarelli followed by the Japanese duo of Sakura Mori and Satsuki Odo complete the top eight names.
All are contenders for gold; most notably on the ITTF World Tour, Yang Xiaoxin won in 2014 in Croatia and in 2016 in the Czech Republic, Shan Xiaona succeeded in 2014 on home soil in Magdeburg, Sakura Mori in 2017 in India.
Meanwhile, last year at ITTF Challenge Series tournaments, a semi-final finish was the lot of Deborah Vivarelli in Nigeria, as it was for Satsuki Odo in both Croatia and Slovenia. Somewhat similarly in 2018 Nina Mittelham was a quarter-finalist in Belgium.
Undoubtedly all are motivated but if there is one player who must possess an extra degree of motivation it is Honoka Hashimoto; she has appeared in eight ITTF Challenge Series women’s singles finals, she won just one, in 2017 she succeeded in Croatia.
Equally, in the women’s doubles, Honoka Hashimoto could prove the nemesis; she partners Maki Shiomi and occupies the no.2 seeded spot.
Notably last year the duo won in Paraguay and Poland. Nina Mittelham and Shan Xiaona occupy the no.3 spot, followed by Singapore’s Goi Rui Xuan and Zeng Jian.
Players in form
Significantly, in the men’s singles event, it is very much in form players that catch the eye; note the names of Germany’s Benedikt Duda, Denmark’s Zhai Yujia and Italy’s Niagol Stoyanov.
At the recently completed 2020 ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open in Magdeburg, all had splendid wins. In the qualification tournament Zhai Yujia beat Hong Kong China’s Wong Chun Ting, Niagol Stoyanov accounted for China’s Fang Bo; later in the opening round Benedikt Duda ended the hopes of Sweden’s Mattias Falck.
In Granada, Benedikt Duda is the top seed, Niagol Stoyanov, the no.10 seed, Zhai Yujia, the no.31 seed.
Next in line to Benedikt Duda is Kazakhstan’s Kirill Gerassimenko, followed by Noshad Alamiyan, Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro, the host nation’s Alvaro Robles and Sweden’s Anton Källberg. Also from Brazil Eric Jouti and Nigeria’s Olajide Omotayo complete the leading eight names.
Notably, Noshad Alamiyan succeeded on the ITTF World Tour in 2012 in Morocco, as in 2015 did Thiago Monteiro in Chile and Eric Jouti in Argentina; likewise in 2015, Nima Alamian, the no.12 seed, prevailed in Belgium. Similarly, last year Anton Källberg emerged the winner at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Croatia Open, Olajide Omotayo upset the status quo to succeed at the African Games.
In addition, most creditably, at ITTF Challenge Series tournaments in 2017, Kirill Gerassimenko was a semi-finalist in Poland, Alvaro Robles a quarter-finalists in Spain.
Brothers to the fore
Brothers Noshad Alamiyan and Nima Alamian very much to the fore, it is the same in the men’s doubles.
The winners on the ITTF World Tour in 2015 in Belgium, they are the top seeds. Next in the order of merit is the combination of Eric Jouti and Thiago Monteiro followed by Carlos Caballero and Alvaro Robles; Egypt’s Youssef Abdel-Aziz and Khalid Assar occupy the no.4 spot.
Meanwhile, in the under 21 men’s singles, the top four names are Belgium’s Florian Cnudde, Romania’s Rares Sipos, Frenchman Jules Rolland and Russia’s Denis Ivonin. In the counterpart under 21 women’s singles competition Maki Shiomi is the top name pursued by the Romanian duo of Andreea Dragoman and Adina Diaconu, Russia’s Mariia Tailakova is the no.4 seed.
Notably at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Paraguay Open, Florian Cnudde was the under 21 men’s singles runner up, Maki Shiomi the under 21 women’s singles winner.
A total of 157 men and 86 women will compete in Granada.