Table tennis action at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games gets underway tomorrow and all eyes will be on the curtain-raiser Mixed Doubles competition which is making its debut at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
It has been 33 years since table tennis first made its introduction at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and five highly coveted gold medals including one for the Mixed Doubles event will be given out.
The Mixed Doubles will commence from the round of 16 on a knock-out tournament basis with the host nation’s Japan’s Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani drawn to meet the Austrian duo of Sofia Polcanova and Stefan Fegerl on table two at 1115 (local time).
A semi-final clash between Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching may be on the cards if the Japanese play true to form and the Chinese Taipei pair overcome the Indian pairing of Kamal Achanta and Manika Batrain in the Mixed Doubles event which is contested on a best-of-seven structure.
Meanwhile, top seeds Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen of China open their campaign against Canada’s Eugene Wang and Mo Zhang in session one which is scheduled to start at 1200 (local time). A potential semi-final bout with Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem awaits with the Hong Kong, China combination being the only pair to ever beat the top seeds on the international stage.
It will be a battle of youth versus experience in the Women’s Singles preliminary round when 12-year-old Hend Zaza of Syria takes on Austria’s Liu Jia, a 39-year-old, almost thrice her age. As the youngest-ever table tennis athlete in the Olympic Games history (as of qualification on 24th February 2020 in Amman, Jordan), Zaza is also the fifth-youngest known Olympian in history and the youngest since Romanian figure skater Beatrice Hustiu in 1968.
The rising new generation of table tennis talents will be on full display this Saturday as French teenager Prithika Pavade gets her first taste of Olympics action when she meets Russian Olympic Committee’s Yana Noskova in their opening encounter at 1415.
Like Zaza and Pavade, Singapore’s Clarence Chew will also be making his Olympics debut in the Men’s Singles after he clinched his ticket to Tokyo at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament earlier this year. Chew’s maiden Olympics clash will be against Senegal’s Ibrahima Diaw.
Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov, who won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Games, will not be in action until the third round on Tuesday, July 27 where he will take on Japan’s Koki Niwa. But the seventh seed is already looking forward to what promises to be an exceptional week.
“It has been a long wait for the Olympics. It’s different from usual. Everyone’s wearing a mask, keeping their distance and you cannot see their facial expression. But considering the times we are living in and how the whole world has now come to Tokyo for the Games, it’s exceptional the organisers have been able to host it. We have worked so hard for this, and we are really very happy we can be here to compete,” said Ovtcharov.
China’s Fan Zendong and Ma Long, who are seeded first and second respectively, echoed Ovtcharov’s sentiments.
“We are living in a different time now especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many strict protocols to follow at the games and we just have to abide and make our own adjustments. But I’m simply delighted to have the opportunity to be here as it’s the Olympics. The organisation has been excellent so far and it’s time for us to perform now,” said Ma, a three-time Olympic gold medallist.
Fan will take on Portugal’s Marcos Freitas while Ma goes head-to-head with France’s Simon Gauzy on in the third round.
“Competing in the Olympics is the dream of every athlete and I’m no exception. Despite the pandemic, we are all coping very well and making the best of not only the playing but also living conditions. But it has been great so far and we are just looking forward to the start of the games,” said Fan.
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