(by Steve Hopkins)
The first ITTF event of 2021 is officially underway in Doha, Qatar. The “Middle East Hub” is a series of four events that begin with the WTT Contender Event this week, then the WTT Star Contender Event on March 5, then the World Singles Qualification Tournament on March 14, and finally the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament on March 18. Some big names have backed out with COVID-19 concerns, including the Hong Kong and Chinese teams, but there will be a lot of star power in Doha over the next few weeks – including Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Liam Pitchford, Simon Gauzy, and Mattias Falck, and the Star Contender Event includes Patrick Franziska, Koki Niwa, and Jun Mizutani.
The Contender Event is up to the third qualifying round. Players that have made it this far just need two more wins to advance to the Main Draw – where 8 qualifiers will play 16 seeded players.
In early action, many of the names familiar to Americans have already fallen. Omar Assar fell to Russia’s Sidorenko, Paul Drinkhall and Aleksandar Karakasevic both fell to Austria’s Andreas Levenko, Ricardo Walther fell to Czech Republic’s Sirucek, Brian Afanador fell to Alvaro Robles, Jouti fell to Italy’s Piccolin, both Daniel Gonzalez and Marcos Madrid fell to Italy’s Bobocica, Sam Walker fell to Italy’s Stoyanov, Eugene Wang fell to Brazil’s Ishiy, Jeremy Hazin fell to Ionescu, and both Monteiro and Ruwen Filus fell to Joao Geraldo.
Among those a match away are plenty of recognizable players: Marcelo Aguirre, Tiago Apolonia, Daniel Habesohn, Alberto Mino, Anton Kallberg, Ovidiu Ionescu, Dang Qiu, Kirill Gerassimenko, and Vitor Ishiy. Tuesday will determine players reach the main draw (and in what order).
Once the main draw begins, we’ll see action from the top seeds – a list of allstars that starts with Harimoto, Calderano, Lin, Falck, and Ovtcharov. We’ll also follow the women’s event in the main draw – with entries that include Mima Ito and Cheng I-Ching as the top two seeds, Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz at No. 7, USA’s Lily Zhang at No. 13, and Canada’s Mo Zhang and No. 17.
Check in with ButterflyOnline.com for news and scores as the ITTF Calendar heats up ahead of the Olympic Games this July.