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Preview- Lion 31st ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup Yokohama 2018

Lion 31st ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup Yokohama 2018

Thursday 5th April

 

Zhu Yuling: first step in title defence in Yokohama

Winner in Markham, Toronto, on the evening of Sunday 29th October, at the Uncle Pop 2017 ITTF Women's World Cup presented by Polar Naturals, China’s Zhu Yuling takes her first step in defence of the title some six months after winning in the Canadian city.

She is the no.2 seed at the Lion 31st ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup Yokohama 2018 which commences on Friday 6th April.

Having in 2015 in the Indian city of Jaipur finished in third place behind colleague, Liu Shiwen and Singapore’s Feng Tianwei; Zhu Yuling emerged victorious last September when she succeeded in Ahmedabad. Notably, as one month later, she beat Liu Shiwen in the title deciding contest.

Now in 2018, there is no Liu Shiwen in the competition, the further Chinese selection is Cheng Meng, the player who on the recently published Women’s World Rankings for April replaced Zhu Yuling in top spot. She makes her debut in the Asian Cup.

Equally, there is no Feng Tianwei, the player who in Jaipur caused an upset of note when she beat Zhu Yuling in the group phase of proceedings and thus in effect prevented the possibility of an all-Chinese final. Later she accounted for Liu Shiwen in the final to seal the title for her one and only time in her career. Similar to colleague, Yu Mengyu, who won bronze in 2014 in Wuhan, she is on duty at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on the far-east coast of Australia.

The top two places occupied by China, the main challenge for honours comes from the three players the next in line; the Japanese duo of Kasumi Ishikawa and Miu Hirano alongside Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching.

Notably all three have been medallists at the Women’s World Cup. Sensationally, Miu Hirano won in Philadelphia in 2016 when she beat Cheng I-Ching in the final, before last year in Markham, Cheng I-Ching reversed the verdict in the bronze medal match.

Meanwhile, Kasumi Ishikawa was the bronze medallist in Linz and in 2015 in Sendai.

Furthermore, other than Zhu Yuling, she is the only player on duty in Yokohama to have gained a podium finish in the Women’s event at the Asian Cup. The efforts of Miu Hirano winning the Women’s World Cup when only 16 years old in Philadelphia stand out in the mind but equally surprising was the performance of Kasumi Ishikawa on her Asian Cup debut. She won the bronze medal in 2007 in Hanoi, at the time she was only 14 years old!

Later she was also a bronze medallist in 2013 in Hong Kong and last year in Ahmedabad, ten years after her Hanoi success.

Additionally, Kasumi Ishikawa is very much the player in form; recently she won the Women’s Singles title at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour German Open, the player she beat in the final, Korea’s Suh Hyowon.

In Yokohama, Suh Hyowon is the no.6 seed one place behind Cheng I-Ching; Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching and Hong Kong’s Lee Ho Ching complete the top eight names.

  

Top man, three goals for Fan Zhendong in Yokohama

Elevated to the very pinnacle on the Men’s World Rankings, China’s Fan Zhendong is the top seed at the forthcoming Lion 31st ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup Yokohama 2018; play commences on Friday 6th April.

The task in the Japanese city is principally threefold; to climb one step higher than last September in the Indian city of Ahmedabad when he finished in runners up spot, to qualify for the Liebherr Men’s World Cup to be held later in the year in Paris and thus attempt to regain the title won in 2016 in Saarbrücken, thirdly to win the Asian title for the first time.

In Ahmedabad, Fan Zhenzhong was beaten in the final by colleague, Lin Gaoyuan; thus reversing the decision of the 2012 World Junior Championships, also staged in India in Hyderabad, on that occasion Fan Zhendong had prevailed in the Boys’ Singles final.

The defeat in Ahmedabad also denied Fan Zhendong the opportunity to defend his World Cup title; only two players per national association eligible, Lin Gaoyuan gained a place as the Asian Cup winner, Ma Long as the reigning World champion.

Now in 2018 it is the same scenario; if Fan Zhendong is to qualify for the Liebherr Men’s World Cup to be held later in the year in Paris, to guarantee participation he must overcome the second place Asian Cup hoodoo. Notably he was the runner up in 2014 in Wuhan beaten by Ma Long in the final, the following year in Jaipur it was the same outcome; in the title decider, he lost to Xu Xin.

The Asian Cup title remains elusive but let’s not forget, even though he seems to have been around for a long time, he is only 21 years old; in fact if so minded he is still young enough to compete in that age group category.

Seeking revenge, for Lin Gaoyuan it is seeking a repeat and aiming to dispel the doubts over his mental strength; the talent is without question but defeats last year when holding substantial leads in the decisive seventh game against colleague Xu Xin at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships and later in the year at the Liebherr 2017 Men’s World Cup, when facing Germany’s Timo Boll, pose serious questions.

Equally earlier this year, at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event at the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open, he was beaten by Brazil’s Hugo Calderano. Great credit must go to the young man fron Rio de Janeiro for a fine performance but did we not expect better from Lin Gaoyuan than a four straight games defeat?

Lin Gaoyuan is the no.2 seed in Yokohama followed by Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting and Korea’s Lee Sangsu; last year in Ahmedabad Wong Ching, having been a bronze medallist one year earlier in Dubai, endured a torrid time. He departed in the opening phase without winning a single match. Conversely, Lee Sangsu finished on the third step of the podium.

Next in line to Lee Sangsu is the host nation’s challenge with Koki Niwa and Tomokazu Harimoto on duty, the latter on debut; Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan and Jeoung Youngsik, like Lee Sangsu from Korea, complete the top eight names.

Chuang Chih-Yuan alongside Hong Kong’s Jiang Tianyi, the no.11 seed, are the only remaining players on duty in Yokohama to have achieved a podium finish in the Men’s Singles event at an Asian Cup tournament.

Both have been bronze medallists; Jiang Tianyi in 2012 in Guangzhou, Chuang Chih-Yuan one year later in Hong Kong.