G. Sathiyan, India’s highest ranked player, is all set to make his debut appearance at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Men’s World Cup when he will take on France’s Simon Gauzy in the first match of the 2019 edition.
The world No. 30 finished sixth at the Asian Cup in Yokohama, Japan, in April to qualify for the World Cup for the first time, and the Chennai lad practised with a separate sparring partner, Shen Yaohuan from China, to focus on his individual training.
“If he [coach S. Raman] can see my game and give corrections, it is great. Having a sparring partner, you can play all the two hours for yourself. That is something of a big boon,” the 25-year-old said. “Shen is better than the ones we had when we went to China.”
Later on Friday, Sathiyan will take on Jonathan Groth of Sweden in his second Group D match of the preliminary round.
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The 40th edition of the World Cup, which begins on Friday at the Olympic Square, Sichuan Provincial Gymnasium, Chengdu, will feature 20 paddlers, including wild card entries and alternates. The finals will be held on Sunday.
Invitations were sent according to the August world rankings and the players had to go through qualification tournaments – the Pan America Cup in Puerto Rico, the Asian Cup, the Europe Top 16 Cup in Switzerland, the Oceania Cup in French Polynesia and the Africa Cup in Lagos, Nigeria.
The winner of the tournament, the second most prestigious event after the World Championships, will take home $60,000, while the runner-up will get $40,000.
Asian paddlers have been the most dominant force in the tournament winning 24 titles combined.
The top contenders
Fan Zhendong : The defending champion starts as one of the favourites. The world No. 1 is a two-time World Cup champion, with his maiden crown arriving in Saarbrücken, Germany, in 2016. The Chinese paddler is coming off the back of back-to-back tournament wins at the Austrian Open and the German Open, and the 22-year-old has a chance to become only the third player to win consecutive World Cups after Ma Lin (2003-04) and Wang Hao (2007-08).
Ma Long : The 31-year-old Chinese is a veteran of the sport and also a two-time World Cup champion (2012, 2015). The world No. 4 started the year with titles at the Qatar Open and the China Open before finishing runner-up in Korea. With a win percentage of 80 in the tournament, he is touted as the biggest threat to Fan’s defence campaign.
Timo Boll: Aged 38 and with a win record-loss of 49-21 at the tournament, the German is the second-most experienced player at this year’s edition. The world No. 8 has lifted the title in 2002 and 2005 and holds the distinction of recording the joint most, with Wang Hao, appearances in the final – six. Though Boll hasn’t won a tournament in 2019, he has been consistent with either top-four or top-eight finishes.
Vladimir Samsonov : The most successful current player with three World Cup titles in 1999, 2001 and 2009, Samsonov has a win-loss record of 52-27 at the tournament. The 43-year-old is also the most experienced player in the world, but his last World Tour title dates back to the Australian Open in 2017. Should Samsonov win on December 1, he will tie China’s Ma Lin for the most World Cup titles - four.