238 days later, international table tennis restarts!
- Updated: November 9, 2020
Sunday 8 November 2020 will go down in history as the day that saw table tennis revived on the world stage. In doing so, it became one of the first international sports to return amidst the COVID-19 pandemic which had halted all ITTF events since 15 March.
The #RESTART series has kicked off with the Dishang 2020 ITTF Women’s World Cup in Weihai, China. A gripping group stage saw 13 players, seeded 9th to 21st, battle it out for their place in the draw to face the top eight seeds in Monday’s round of 16. The prestigious showpiece will conclude on Tuesday 10 November.
After eight months without events, emotions were understandably high in the build-up to play starting on Sunday. The very first point – an entertaining rally played between Lily Zhang and Margaryta Pesotska – was greeted with joyous cheers by all present at the Weihai Nanhai Olympic Center, not least Liu Guoliang, President of the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA), and Steve Dainton, ITTF CEO.
Chen Meng, world no. 1 and top seed, is the favourite to claim the title for a first time in her career. The Chinese star begins her campaign against Bernadette Szocs. The Romanian booked her place in the knockout stages courtesy of a dramatic seven-game victory over Egypt’s Dina Meshref (8-11, 11-5, 11-8, 10-12, 11-6, 10-12, 11-5).
It was a super Sunday for the majority of Pan America’s participants. USA’s Lily Zhang and Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz dug deep to come through an intense Group 2. They tied with Margaryta Pesotska on two victories each, but the Ukrainian missed out on points difference.
Zhang will take on Singapore’s Feng Tianwei (seed no. 5) in what will be a repeat of their bronze medal match at last year’s Women’s World Cup. Feng came out on top that day to end the American’s heroic journey in Chengdu.
“I feel tired, happy and relieved, all at the same time right now. I’m just happy to have made it over the line today. Last year I had the best tournament of my life. Never did I expect to do so well. However, I don’t want to draw comparisons, because this is a very different year so I just want to focus on what’s in my control.” – Lily Zhang
Diaz too faces one of the toughest opponents to enter the main draw, Sun Yingsha (seed no. 3). The Chinese 20-year-old talent is making her Women’s World Cup debut, while for Diaz it’s a first-ever appearance in the knockout stages of the event. She booked her place in the last 16 by beating Canada’s Zhang Mo (11-5, 7-11, 11-2, 11-9, 12-10) and Pesotska (11-9, 10-12, 11-7, 9-11, 12-10, 11-8) either side of her defeat to Lily Zhang (13-11, 11-7, 9-11, 9-11, 10-12, 5-11).
“All the players here are really tough and I am happy to have won two matches and be back playing at such a high level. I feel very lucky to be here and just enjoying the moment.” – Adriana Diaz
Japan’s Mima Ito (seed no. 2) will be looking to mark her return to the international stage with a win over Jeon Jihee. The Korean qualified for the last 16 thanks to her thrilling comeback win over Netherlands’ Britt Eerland (7-11, 13-15, 13-11, 13-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-9).
It will be Japan against Korea Republic also when Kasumi Ishikawa (seed no. 6) faces Suh Hyowon. The Asian duo have played each other 14 times, with Ishikawa winning 11 matches – and all nine since succeeding in the women’s singles final at the 2014 Grand Finals.
The standout performer on Sunday, Han Ying won both her matches in straight games against Jeon and Eerland. The German will enter her all-European affair against Austria’s Sofia Polcanova – the continent’s highest-ranked female athlete – in high spirits. Han has won all four previous meetings between the pair.
“I thought I was in good form today. Now the top eight seeds are entering the action and they are all very strong competitors. This is my first-ever Women’s World Cup and I am using every match as a chance to learn.” – Han Ying
Elsewhere, Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong, China is pitted against Chen Szu-Yu. The Chinese Taipei athlete won her group, beating USA’s Wu Yue and Germany’s Petrissa Solja. Meanwhile, Wu is up against the experience of Chinese Taipei’s Cheng I-Ching (seed no. 4) after the American saw off Solja (11-5, 11-4, 11-7, 9-11, 8-11, 3-11, 11-9).