(by Steve Hopkins, photo by ITTFworld)
The teams are already set, so the 5-day event is more of a warm-up than a true Olympic Trial. That said, the goal of the Chinese was to have a competitive internal event that simulated the format of the Tokyo Olympics and prepared their top players for July. What they have found so far are surprises.
Fan Zhendong, the World No. 1 player is into the Finals as expected. He topped Lin Shidong and Wang Chuqin to get there. He is exactly where he is supposed to be – the world’s top player into the Final ready to battle for simulated Gold.
World No. 2 Xu Xin and World No. 4 Lin Gaoyuan both lost in the group stage and failed to make the Quarterfinals. Xu Xin fell to Lin Shidong, a 15 year old phenom who will likely be finding his way onto the National Team in the next year. Lin Gaoyuan fell to savvy veteran Fang Bo. Both players advanced to the Quarters but lost, Fan Bo lost to Ma Long 1-4, and Lin Shidong fell 4-2 to Fan Zhendong.
World No. 3 Ma Long was the most recent upset – falling 4-3 to Zhou Qihao. Qihao has been inconsistent in international play – peaking at 37 – but he has some impressive wins over the last three years including logging wins over Ovtcharov, Chih-Yuan, Samsonov, Franziska, Duda, Jingkin, and (of course) now Ma Long.
China is 80 days away from competing in Tokyo – perhaps the upsets this week will be a wake-up call that will help prevent similar missteps when it really counts.