Sport Week: Ones to watch for Para table tennisHundreds of athletes will compete for table tennis glory but here are 10 favourites 09 Jul 2021
Table tennis is one of the biggest sports at the Paralympics in terms of athlete participation with 31 medal events. But here 10 to definitely keep in mind as Tokyo 2020 rolls around:
Kelly van Zon (NED)
A two-time Paralympic and three-time world champion, the Dutch superstar heads to Tokyo 2020 in search of a third straight gold medal at the Games in the women’s class 7.
Her debut Paralympics at Beijing 2008 resulted in a bronze medal in the singles, but she went to the top of the podium at London 2012 and defended her title at Rio 2016.
Van Zon made headlines at Rio 2016 when she pulled off a miraculous diving shot around the net and left her opponent and eventual silver medallist, Turkey’s Kubra Korkut, stunned.
She has won singles gold at every single major international tournament since 2009, with the exception of the 2013 and 2017 European Championships, and completed a hat trick of World Championship titles in 2018.
Van Zon started playing table tennis aged 9 and made her international debut in 2003.
Koyo Iwabuchi (JPN)
Iwabuchi will carry the hopes of a nation at Tokyo 2020 as Japan’s highest ranked player in men’s class 9. The world No.3 won his first major title at the 2018 World Championships when Japan took out the class 9-10 teams event. He has won six silver and four bronze at the Asian Championships and Asian Para Games and was victorious at the 2019 Dutch Open.
Hoping to convey the appeal of Para sport from all kinds of perspectives ahead of Tokyo 2020, he launched a YouTube channel in 2020 with the aim of increasing people’s knowledge of table tennis by filming and editing his own videos.
‘Bucci’ as he is known, is only 26 years of age but has represented his country for almost a decade.
Melissa Tapper (AUS)
The class 10 player became the first Australian Para table tennis player to qualify for an able-bodied national team when she was selected to represent her country at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2016, she made bigger history when she became the first Australian to compete at a Paralympic and Olympic Games in the same year.
Tapper is a two-time bronze medal winner at the World Championships (2014 and 2018), but has yet to break through for a medal at the Paralympic Games. The world No.3 will be in medal contention at Tokyo 2020, but will need to be at her best in an ultra-competitive field that includes multi-Paralympic champion Natalia Partyka.
Panfeng Feng (CHN)
Feng has been the most dominant male table tennis player in the sitting classes for almost two decades. The Chinese athlete is in contention for a fourth straight Paralympic Games gold medal in singles after success at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.
The current world No. 1 in class 3 also won gold in the class three teams events at London 2012 and Rio 2016, and is a three-time world champion. He played his first international tournament in 2003 as a 13-year-old.
Natalia Partyka (POL)
Partyka has dominated women’s class 10 singles for more than two decades and will become a six-time Paralympian at Tokyo 2020.
The Polish star made history as the youngest ever table tennis Paralympian at Sydney 2000 when she debuted at just 11 years old and has also been a strong challenger on the able-bodied circuit. At Athens 2004, she became the youngest Paralympic table tennis champion, and she was the first table tennis athlete to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games when she qualified for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. She also competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
Partyka has a chance to win her fifth straight singles gold medal at Tokyo 2020 this year and was crowned world champion for a sixth time in 2018.
Laurens Devos (BEL)
Devos burst onto the scene as a 14-year-old at the 2014 Hungarian Open and within a year he was European champion. The Belgian class 9 athlete carried that form into Rio 2016 to become the youngest ever table tennis player to win gold at a Paralympic Games when he accounted for Dutchman Gerban Last in three straight sets.
He was crowned Male Para Table Tennis Star in 2016 and also took out the award for Paralympic table tennis player of the year. Devos added to his European record with further gold medals in 2017 and 2019 and claimed World Championship glory in 2018. The world No.1 is the favourite to defend his title at Tokyo 2020.
Anna-Carin Ahlquist (SWE)
Ahlquist has been a star competitor of the sitting classes for a number of years. The Swedish class 3 athlete heads into her fourth Paralympic Games as the top-ranked player in her class and will look to add a second gold medal to her impressive career.
Ahlquist won the singles title at London 2012 and added a silver in the team event. She was unable to defend her gold at Rio 2016 after the Chinese dual between winner Xue Juan and Li Qian. Ahlquist managed to grab a place on the podium with a bronze medal.
Mohamed Sameh Eid Saleh (EGY)
Egyptian Mohamed Sameh Eid Saleh has been at the top of his game for more than 20 years and won everything up for grabs in class 4 at the African Championships.
Success at continental level has spanned two decades for Saleh, who captured his first individual gold at the Africa-Middle East Championships in 1999 and won for an incredible ninth time in 2019.
London 2012 was his best Paralympics with a bronze in the class four singles. Saleh is on the brink of history as he is set to become the first African table tennis player to feature at a fifth Paralympic Games at Tokyo 2020 after winning his way through his toughest qualification tournament yet.
Guiyan Xiong (CHN)
Xiong is on the hunt for her first medal at the Paralympic Games at Tokyo 2020.
The class 9 competitor has won nine gold medals since 2013 in individual and teams events at the Asian Championships and Asian Para Games, and helped China capture the class 9-10 team title at the 2014 Worlds.
Xiong has mostly been successful on the regional level, but now at No.1, she hopes to break the mold on the international stage at Tokyo 2020.
William Bayley (GBR)
Bayley has been a very consistent performer in men’s class 7 table tennis. The British star broke through for his first Paralympic singles gold medal when he defeated a strong field at Rio 2016, a redemptive results after losing out in the finals at this home Paralympics in London.
A Paralympic, world and European champion, the world No. 3 heads into Tokyo 2020 look for back-to-back titles.
Born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affected all four of his limbs, Bayley underwent numerous operations from three months old. Then he underwent chemotherapy when diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at 7. It was while recovering from cancer that his grandmother bought him a table tennis table and his journey began.