Manika Batra also features in this list by the veteran table tennis commentator.
With less than two weeks left before the much-awaited Tokyo Olympics, stage is all set for the athletes across the world to showcase their talent at the world’s biggest quadrennial event. Tokyo Games will feature 339 events in 33 different sports and a total of 50 disciplines. Table tennis has been part of the Olympics since 1988.
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, one of the widely acclaimed TT commentators in the world and also known as ‘The Voice of Table Tennis’ Adam Bobrow brings us the list of Top-10 paddlers to watch out for in the upcoming Olympics. Adam, who will be one of the official commentators at the Tokyo Games, also runs a YouTube channel and has featured many top TT players on his channel which enabled TT enthusiasts to know more about their favourite players and the sport.
China has been the most dominant country when it comes to TT, however the upcoming Tokyo Olympics could bring surprise for the fans with paddlers from other parts of the world making notable performances. Here are Adam’s top-10 paddlers to watch at the Olympics.
1) Mima Ito (Japan): At only 20, Mima is not only the youngest in the Japanese Tokyo Olympics team but by far the greatest threat to the Chinese dominance. She has the most dominant serves in the game. Her unique serves often don’t come back and there is a reason the crowd loves the coined phrases ‘Mima punch’ and ‘Mima smash’. Known as ‘Mima-chan’ the World No. 2 is just 4 feet 9 inches but powerful and is one of the main reasons why women’s game has been increasingly fascinating to watch over the last 5 years.
2) Tomokazu Harimoto (Japan): Japanese sensation Harimoto has already been considered to be G.O.A.T and has defeated Olympic champion and TT great Ma Long even before turning 15. The fight in Harimoto has been taking down notable names since he was only 11 years old and he has shattered almost every age-related record this sport has to offer. The 18-years-old paddler’s battle cries will make it very clear from the start of the match, that he came to conquer and not to rest for a single point.
3) Adriana Diaz (Puerto Rico): ‘The Pride of Puerto Rico’ Adriana is not quite an unknown name to TT enthusiasts in India with her impressive performances in the country’s premier TT league, Ultimate Table Tennis. Adriana was also the first-ever Puerto Rican paddler to be invited to play in the Chinese Super League. With entry into the Top-20 in the world, she shattered all the records in Puerto Rico TT history and her personality, swag and super creative style of play make her spectacular to watch. Interestingly Adriana is one of four TT playing sisters in the Diaz family and her elder sister Melanie has also qualified to compete in Tokyo
4) Liam Pitchford (England): As England’s top player, Pitchford has beaten two of the top three Chinese national team players in recent years. The World No. 15 has been producing some remarkable performances recently. His bold and risky style combined with his scarily versatile backhand makes him a danger for any opponent. No one is safe with Pitchford on their half of the draw.
5) Manika Batra (India): As the poster-girl for table tennis in India, Manika has been getting noticed for years with her very unusual style of play. In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, she pulled off a massive upset over a world champion Feng Tianwei and that too twice. This along with her overall positive, humble and contagiously heart-warming personality has gained her a massive international fan following. Manika’s rare combination of near the table defense and offense can surprise opponents and may lead to some shocking results once again in Tokyo. She will also be pairing with India’s experienced campaigner Achanta Sharath Kamal in the first-ever mixed doubles event at the Olympics, and together they have already shown to be a very capable pair to take down big names.
6) Quadri Aruna (Nigeria): The King of Africa has been the crowd favorite around the world for some time now with his undying efforts and seemingly self-taught style. In the 2016 Olympics, he had two major upsets beating Top-10 players. It’s not just his style of play that makes Quadri so much fun to watch, but the passion that he brings to every match, makes you want to cheer for him even if you are watching him for the first time. He not only carries the hopes of Nigeria and the rest of Africa but the fans across the entire world who are excited to see new regions rise in the sport.
7) Han Ying (Germany): Chopping is an art form and as the world’s best ‘chopper’ (defender) Han Ying qualified for women’s singles, you will likely witness the longest, most suspenseful and spectacular rallies at the Tokyo Olympics. Usually from a 10-feet behind the table or more, she’ll be keeping the ball in play in the most classic way while punishing with her one-shot knockout finishing forehand if the opponent isn’t careful.
8) Lin Yun-Ju (Chinese Taipei): Known as ‘The Silent Assassin’ for his inaudibly low-key demeanor as he takes down the biggest names in the sport, the 19-years-old Yun-Ju has quietly beaten both of Olympics-bound Chinese players—Ma Long and Fan Zhendong—and emerged as the global sensation and a threat to many top paddlers at Olympics. As the No. 1 player in Taiwan and ranked sixth in the world, Yun-Ju will lead a strong team and his dangerous game is known by opponents and fans around the globe. It’s fair to say when he thrills with his kills, you’ll get chills as he chills.
9) Lily Zhang (USA): A 5-time national champion Zhang will be making her third Olympics appearance at the age of just 25. In 2019, Zhang had her international breakthrough stealing the show at the Women’s World Cup, she won the ITTF Breakthrough Star Award the same year. In the following year, she caught the eye of many with a victory over the World Champion Feng Tianwei, who defeated her for the bronze medal in 2019.
10) Hugo Calderano (Brazil): A young, fit, brainiac Hugo has done things never seen by most at the professional level. In 2018, he beat the World No. 1 Fan Zhendong, which launched his already ignited career to another stratosphere. Breaking one record after another not only for Brazil but the entire Americas, the 25-year-old paddler’s creativity and athleticism along with a variety of entertaining skills make him unpredictable and a player you don’t want to miss.