by Kabir Nagpal
The “Dragon” himself, Ma Long will be appearing in his eighth Men’s World Cup, seeded no.2. The three-time World Champion has previously won this event in Liverpool in 2012 and Halmstad in 2015. He knows just how hard the competition will be – as he found out in the most recent edition.
Young Tomokazu Harimoto found the strength and will to eliminate Ma at the semi-final stage, and then lost the bronze medal match to another teenage sensation in Lin Yun-Ju. It was the first time the Chinese did not finish on the podium in his seven appearances. Betting for that incident to happen again this time does not seem wise.
The former world no.1 Dimitrij Ovtcharov comes to Weihai having secured the gold medal at 2019 Europe Top 16 Cup for the third time in four years. The German machine will be making his 13th appearance at the Men’s World Cup, and hoping for it to be a lucky 13th!
Winner of the title in 2017 at Liège, this is a tournament where Ovtcharov has often pushed himself to beat any expectations set of him pre-event. After a fourth place finish two years ago in Paris, he could not go past the quarter-final stages in China last year. The minimum target Ovtcharov will have set for himself this time will be the podium.
The double-defending champion from Paris and Chengdu has been looking supremely confident in all the preparatory tournaments for the World Cup. The world no.1, Fan Zhendong arrives on home turf high on confidence and with a trophy laden backpack.
Owning an impressive record at the Men’s World Cup, Fan’s four appearances consist of three golds (2019, 2018, 2016) and one silver medal (2015). It is a record of which any elite table tennis athlete would be envious. Will Fan maintain his amazing run and make it an unprecedented three in a row at Weihai?
Ranked no.4 in the world, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto has taken the table tennis fraternity by storm over the past couple years. The 17-year-old has often been dubbed as the “Mozart” of the sport, with his explosive forehands now quickly becoming a signature move.
Seeded third at the Men’s World Cup twice in two years, Harimoto displayed his class in 2019 when he reached the final after seeing off the challenges of Quadri Aruna, Koki Niwa and the Dragon himself, Ma Long in the semi-finals. It has become clear this is the kind of environment in which the teenager thrives, can anyone begrudge him going one better this time?
Another teenager who outshone the experienced lot of athletes last year and will be looking to repeat his exploits, is Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju. The world no. 7 has burst on to the scene since winning the 2019 ITTF World Tour Czech Open, 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Oman Open and the 2019 T2 Diamond Malaysia tournament, before claiming the bronze medal on his debut at the Men’s World Cup last year in Chengdu.
Lin will have his sights set on leaving yet another mark at an event where his determination and decisive play have previously taken him to the podium. No one can truly bet against him doing it all over again.