by Kabir Nagpal
An added ingredient, it is an Olympic year, skills are honed to perfection, in the Aspire Dome, excellence is the order.
Chen Meng, no.1 seed
The world no.1 is not only the world no. 1 for a reason – being the very best in the world – but also because of many other reasons. The first thought when you hear the name ‘Chen Meng’ is realising that the Chinese star is in the form of her life.
Having won the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals not more than six weeks ago, she has started 2020 as she ended 2019 – winning the ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open. In Qatar, she is a previous winner in 2012 and 2017.
Sun Yingsha, no.2 seed
However, Chen Meng isn’t the only woman coming into Doha in form. Using her youthful exuberance to the fullest, compatriot Sun Yingsha, the winner of three titles last year is out to to really prove herself to the table tennis elite.
Collecting gold in Australia, Japan and Germany, Sun climbed from world no.29 last April to currently occupy the no.2 position. The 19 year old is more than just a threat to Chen, she’s a real rival.
Mima Ito, no.3 seed
Another teenager in the mix in Qatar is Japan’s Mima Ito, her confidence boosted at the recent 2020 ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open. In the women’s singles final, she recovered from 2-3 down in games and 2-7 in the sixth to beat Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching.
Her personal rivalry with Sun Yingsha is one to watch as well. Will Ito be able to overcome the Chinese dominated women’s elite? The thing is, when you beat one, there is always another waiting.
Liu Shiwen, no.4 seed
World Champion and World Cup winner Liu Shiwen is a three times the champion in Doha, having secured gold in 2011, 2016 and 2018.
She has a clear target. Can she match Zhang Yining’s four wins from 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009?
Wang Manyu, no.5 seed
Qatar will also see Wang Manyu in action who, like Sun Yingsha, is eager to showcase her true class on a more consistent basis on the World Tour and define her worth as a future first team selection.
She is the defending champion; last year no opponent was able to take the 21-year-old to seven games. Shortly after that performance, she was on her way to the later stages of the Liebherr 2019 World Championships, only to miss out against Chen Meng in the semi-finals. Can Wang display that sort of form at this grand stage again?
Zhu Yuling, no.6 seed
The winner of the Marvellous 12 tournament earlier in the year in January, China’s Zhu Yuling is playing with increased confidence.
On a mission beyond the gold, Zhu will want to prove she is worthy of carrying the national team flag after the potential retirement of Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen who are now the wrong side of 30.
Ding Ning, no.7 seed
Speaking of 30, don’t forget the Queen of Hearts, Ding Ning. Winner in 2013 in Qatar, this is all but familiar territory to her.
The Tokyo Olympic Games 2020 is certain to be on her mind, and it will stand to reason how her form is going into the biggest challenge she will face at this age. Luckily for her, she is not showing any signs of slowing down at the table.
Feng Tianwei, no.8 seed
The Singaporean veteran Feng Tianwei will also be in a similar boat to Ding. Nine ITTF World Tour women’s singles titles to her name, could 2020 be her swansong year?
In order to to keep pace with current generation, Feng will need all her experience and patience in Doha, building a head of steam – and form – going into the Olympic Games not too far in the future.