The top four seeds in the men’s singles competition at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals are all Chinese, but it would the two teenagers occupying the next two places that the spotlight would be on. Sixteen-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan and Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju, two years the former’s senior, are seen as the future of the men’s game.
The World Tour Grand Finals from Dec 12-15 in Zhengzhou, China offers US$ 1,000,000 in total prize money– the highest on offer in the sport. For the mixed doubles event there is an added incentive of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games spots available to the four semi-finalists.
There is no doubt that the likes of top seeded Xu Xin, reigning World Cup winner Fan Zhendong and veteran Ma Long, the Olympic and World champion, are expected to be the odds on favourites for the title. But the two teenagers have injected plenty of excitement to the proceedings.
Yun-Ju has moved up to a career high of number seven in the world rankings, backed by his upset win over Ma Long for the bronze medal at the World Cup. He had also won the World Tour Czech Open.
Harimoto comes into the tournament as the defending champion, having upset all odd to win the crown in Incheon as the youngest ever winner at 15 years and 172 days. He is more matured player now, having also finished runner-up at the World Cup and winning the Bulgarian Open.
Defending the title will be a tough task with other previous winners on show. Back in the no.1 spot on the world rankings, Xu Xin won in 2012 in Hangzhou and in 2013 in Dubai; Zhendong claimed the title in 2017 in Astana while Ma Long has won it five times. German veteran, Timo Boll, seeded ninth here was also a previous winner in 2005.
Eleven of the sixteen qualifiers for the women’s competition are from China, with eight of the top ten seeds also coming from the table tennis powerhouses.
Defending champion Chen Meng will be looking to win back-back titles although she is only seeded third behind teammate Sun Yingsha and Japan’s Mima Ito.
Both the top two seeds are just 19-year-old and but have shown championships pedigree this season. Yingsha won on the World Tour in Japan, Australia and Germany while Ito secured gold at the recent in Austria after being the silver medallist in Germany, Sweden and Hong Kong.
Ito is the only non-Chinese to win a women’s singles title on this year’s World Tour.
Chen Meng is seeking a third straight Grand Finals title, after winning the crown last year in Incheon and in Astana the previous year. She comes into the Grand Finals after having won in Hungary, China, Korea and Sweden.
Three time champion Liu Shiwen is another player who could walk away with the title once again. Shiwen failed to win a single World Tour women’s singles title this year. But she won the World championships in April and followed it up with the World Cup in October before helping China win the Team World Cup last month.
Olympic gold medallist Ding Ning, who won the title in 2015, cannot be discounted despite her less than spectacular form this season.