by Kabir Nagpal
The ‘Thrill from Brazil’ has certainly had a topsy-turvy year which started with a men’s singles gold medal at the Universal 2020 ITTF Panam Cup, and ended with losses at the WTT Macao tournament against China’s Lin Gaoyuang, Ma Long and Xu Xin.
After breaking into the top 10 in August 2018, Hugo Calderano’s rise in the world rankings has kept him fairly static just outside the top five. The round of 16 and quarter-final finishes at the Men’s World Cup and ITTF Finals in the ITTF #RESTART series, has certainly established him as one of the world’s elite athletes. His next mission? Break into that top five with a medal or two.
Englishman and world no.15, Liam Pitchford has attracted a great deal of attention with his overall displays in 2020 – commencing with a semi-final finish at the ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open in February, followed by a silver medal at the ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open the next month.
The #RESTART series only saw him restricted to the round of 16, the WTT Macao event saw him win convincingly against one South Korean, Jang Woojin, and lose narrowly to the other, Jeoung Youngsik. Pitchford has often pushed himself beyond the expectations of everyone. The target for the coming 12 months has to be making his appearances on the podium a regularity.
Finally, someone who is quickly acquiring the label of ‘One to avoid’, Mattias Falck may see 2021 as the opportunity to continue his meteoric rise in the elite circle of men’s singles. The Swedish star has been a force with which to be reckoned ever since his silver medal finish at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest. The past year has seen that force in action – if not in the most favourable of end-results for the European.
Falck’s world ranking of no.8 is no fluke – having climbed into the top 10 in June 2019 and never since left. Finishes in tournaments have not been higher than the quarter-finals this term, he has still managed some big scalps – most recently that of Xu Xin at the WTT Macao event. Considering the confidence and clarity of his approach play against the top guns, can Falck find his way into the Top 5?