Slovenia Open draws strong competition ahead of Rio

The top para-table tennis stars get to test themselves ahead of September’s Paralympic Games. 03 May 2016
the upper body of a female playing table tennis and wearing a pink polo shirt

Sandra Paovic at the 2015 ITTF Para Table Tennis European Championships.

ⒸMorten Olsen
By Devon Robertson | For the IPC; and Great British Para-Table Tennis

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Slovenia Open will see 315 players from 43 countries compete between 4-7 May in Lasko at one of the most competitive para-table tennis international competitions before the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

With nearly all the world’s top players set to compete, the tournament will provide a valuable opportunity to face competition ahead of September’s Paralympics. China will be sending the largest delegation with 30 athletes, as they prepare to maintain their position as the world’s number one table tennis nation.

China currently has 25 athletes ranked in the top 10 in the world across all classes and has topped the medal standings at the last three Paralympic Games and four World Championships.

But it was Ukraine who took the most medals from last year’s Slovenia Open. This year the team features 14 athletes with a number of medal contenders. Eight of the athletes competing are in the top five in their class. World and European champion Viktor Didukh will head the team. Ranked No.1 in the men’s class 8, Didukh is coming off singles and team golds from February’s Lignano Master Open in Italy and will look to stay on top heading into his first Paralympic Games.

British world champion Will Bayley will be present, looking to upgrade his singles silver from last year’s tournament. The class 7 player will look to regroup following this year’s Lignano Master Open where he failed to medal.

“I can't wait to play the best players in the world in my class,” said Bayley. “For us all to be at a competition is really exciting and I see it as a great opportunity for me. Training has been great since Italy; I have improved on things and also played many [able-bodied] league matches and been successful which has given me great confidence coming in to these massive competitions. I have given it everything in the training hall since Italy – there is no stone left unturned. I'm totally ready to play in Slovenia and can't wait to get started.”

Great Britain’s Rob Davies is also ranked No. 1 in men’s class 1 and will be making his first international appearance since successfully defending his European crown last October.

“It should be a great tournament,” said Davies. “Obviously I want to do well and keep a good seeding for Rio but as long as I perform in September that's all that really counts. I'm pretty happy to be honest, we've had brilliant preparation and it's more a case of keeping my body together at the moment.

“Getting back to full fitness has been a challenge,” admits Davies, “but I have missed competing so much as I love being under pressure and the atmosphere of the competition hall.”

Croatian standout Sandra Paovic will be heading to Slovenia as she prepares for her first Paralympic Games. The world and two-time European champion is ranked No.1 in class 6 and has not lost a match since 2014.

Hosts Slovenia will be sending seven athletes to the 13th edition of the tournament. Slovenia has not won a singles medal since the 7th edition of the tournament in 2010 when Andreja Dolinar and Mateja Pintar won gold and silver, respectively. Dolinar is ranked No. 16 in class 4 and will be returning to the Slovenia Open, for her first competition of the year.

The Slovenia Open will be comprised of the singles event from 4-5 May and the team event from 6-7 May, and can be followed on the event website and Facebook page.

The ITTF website has a full list available of the athletes competing at the 2016 Slovenia Open and the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Lasko will also host the 2017 European ITTF Para Table Tennis Championships. This will be the first major tournament for European athletes following the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.