Coming off a World Championships year, many para-table tennis have their sights firmly set on the next big competition – the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Here are six athletes to keep an eye on in 2015.
Natalia Partyka – women’s class 10 (Poland)
The 25-year-old won her first major title during her first year on the international scene at the 1999 European Championships, and she has not slowed down. The world number one in class 10 has competed in the Olympics and won three Paralympic (2004, 2008, 2012) gold medals. In 2014, she won her fourth successive World Championships singles title. In 2015 she is likely to continue her dominance.
Sandra Paovic – women’s class 6 (Croatia)
Sandra Paovic’s 2014 World Championships win was one of the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2014, and it is not surprising why. Before Paovic entered the para-table tennis world, she was a member of Croatia’s table tennis team for eight World Championships and competed in the 2008 Olympic Games. During 2014, only her second year competing in para-table tennis, she took the podium at four international events including the World Championships and is now the world number one. In January 2015 she picked up the ITTF Star Award for female para-table tennis player of the year.
Viktor Didukh – men’s class 8 (Ukraine)
The 27-year-old, who is currently ranked world number one in class 9, won gold in the singles class 9 at the 2014 World Championships. Days later, the greatest victory of his life was his win over Poland’s London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist in class 10 Patryk Chojnowski in the team competition. With European and World Champion titles secured, a Paralympic gold will be his next target.
Bruna Alexandre – women’s class 10 (Brazil)
With the 2016 Paralympic Games just 18 months away, Bruna will be looking to reach the podium on home soil in Rio. The 19-year-old claimed bronze in both the 2014 World Championships team’s class 9-10 and singles class 10. Currently ranked third in class 10 and fourth in women standing, Alexandre in 2015 is likely to focus on winning gold at August’s Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in Canada.
Will Bayley – men’s class 7 (Great Britain)
The 2014 world champion is heading into 2015 ranked second in class 7. He has competed in two Paralympic Games (2008, 2012), winning silver in 2012. Bayley vowed to return to the Paralympic Games as an even stronger player in 2016; with his gold medal at the World Championships he has proven that he has the ability to win major titles.
Thomas Schmidberger – men’s class 3 (Germany)
The class 3 athlete will be looking to claim the world number one spot this year after winning singles silver and team gold at the 2014 World Championship.
At London 2012 he won singles bronze and team silver and is always on the tail of China’s Panfeng Feng. But, with his motto: “Never give up!” he may topple the Chinese athlete ahead of Rio 2016.