Para table tennis’ biggest stars – from Paralympic to world champions – will clash from Tuesday in Taichung, Chinese Taipei, for the Asian Championships 2019.
The tournament will see 277 athletes from 19 countries compete across 21 medal events, with the top ranked athletes from each singles category earning their nation a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
The toughest match-ups are expected in the women’s class 5, which features four of the top-five world ranked athletes.
China’s world No. 1 and reigning Paralympic champion Zhang Bian leads the way. Zhang made a statement at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Indonesia last October, and is also coming off a victory at the Lasko Slovenia Open from May.
But Jordan’s Khetam Abuawad, No. 2 in the rankings, is out for her first major individual gold since 2005. The 44-year-old fell to her rival Bian in the final at Indonesia 2018 but is expected to put up a battle.
Young rising star Pan Jiamin from China could surprise, as the 22-year-old took bronze at Indonesia 2018 and also challenged her compatriot Bian in the final of the Slovenia Open. As the Rio 2016 Paralympic bronze medallist, South Korea’s No. 4 ranked Jung Young A should not be overlooked.
Another match-up to watch is in the women’s class 3.
China’s 29-year-old Xue Juan boasts the Rio 2016 Paralympic and 2018 Worlds gold medals. However, South Korean teenager and world No. 3 Yoon Jiyu will see if she can bring her golds from minor tournaments (2019 Slovenia Open, 2018 Thailand Open and 2018 Czech Open) up to the big leagues.
Another South Korean in Seo Su Yeon appears to have found her golden touch, coming off as the 2018 world champion in the women’s class 2. Her accomplishment at the 2018 Worlds in Lasko, Slovenia, marked her second major career gold, with her first being the Asian Championship title in 2015.
So far, the 33-year-old is on a roll, winning the 2019 Spanish Open, and 2018 tournaments at the Slovakia Open and Lignano Master Open.
China’s Zhou Ying is the favourite in the women’s class 4, as the world No. 1 made her case by winning gold in Indonesia last October.
Perhaps the biggest star in the women’s competition is 24-year-old Mao Jingdian. The Chinese reigning Paralympic and world champion has owned the class 9 category and only appears to get stronger.
The anticipated clash would be in the men’s class 1 between South Korea’s finest: world No. 1 Joo Young Dae and Kim Hyeon Uk. Kim emerged as the surprise winner at the 2018 Worlds, beating his veteran compatriot in the final.
China’s No. 2 world ranked Feng Panfeng is the man to beat in the class 3 category. The 2018 world champion and 2016 Paralympic gold medallist recently showed he is still in top form with singles and doubles gold at the Lasko Slovenia Open.
So has class 4’s Kim Young-gun. The South Korean is the reigning Asian champion, and looks to carry over his dominance from October’s Asian Para Games.
The Asian Para Championships run until 27 July.