The 2018 Para Table Tennis World Championships begin on Wednesday (17 October), when 325 athletes will go for 21 singles titles in Lasko-Celje, Slovenia.
The four-day competition features many athletes coming off victories from the Asian Para Games, which finished on 13 October in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Among those freshly crowned winners are Mao Jingdian and Feng Pangfeng, who lead a 31-strong Chinese delegation in the women’s class 8 and men’s class 3, respectively.
Mao is the reigning Paralympic, world and Asian champion; and the 23-year-old’s latest win in Indonesia proved she is in form for another gold.
Feng is the undisputed ruler in his class. But Germany’s reining European champion Thomas Schmiedberger will hope to pass his rival after coming up short in the Rio 2016 Paralympic and 2014 World finals.
Another rivalry to watch is between Spain’s Alvaro Valera and Denmark’s Peter Rosenmeier in the men’s class 6. The two have had their share of Paralympic, world and European titles. The Spaniard, though, has enjoyed recent success, including the European gold in 2017. Rio 2016 champion Rosenmeier did not medal then but is aiming to bounce back from that disappointment.
Serbia’s Borislava Peric-Rankocic is the women to watch in the class 4. She only has one title missing in her career, which she can be fulfilled in Lasko-Celje. The 46-year-old won two golds (singles and doubles) at last year’s Europeans.
Another 46-year-old in Sweden’s Anna-Carin Ahlquist remains the queen of the class 3. The six-time European champion and London 2012 winner is also without a world title. She took bronze from 2014 but is targeting a better medal in Slovenia.
The story is a bit different for Belgian teenager Laurens Devos. The 18-year-old is already a Paralympic and European champion and can add “world” to his resume in the men’s class 9.
The Netherlands’ Kelly van Zon has not tasted a major gold since the 2016 Paralympics. The women’s world No. 1 class 7 player lost to Turkey’s Kubra Korkut in last year’s European semi-finals. With Korkut having a strong season, a thrilling match-up is expected.
France’s Fabien Lamirault is also craving gold. The multi-Paralympic, world and European champion failed to defend his European singles crown in the men’s class 2 but should not be counted out of a finals appearance.
Poland’s Olympian and Paralympian Natalia Partyka has spent most of her season competing in able-bodied competitions, so Lasko-Celje will be her first Para table tennis event of 2018.
Her last Para competition was last year’s regional Championships, where she won the class 9 singles title to remain world No. 1.
Ukraine’s Viktor Didukh, a former able-bodied player before his cancer diagnosis in 2008, owns the latest Paralympic, world and European crowns, and will be tough to get past in the men’s class 8.
The 2018 Para Table Tennis World Championships run until Saturday (20 October).