WTT Star Contender Early Round Preview
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The qualification draw of WTT Star Contender has completed, and WTT has now released the main draw. We take a look at which players and early round match-ups to keep an eye on following the results of the WTT Contender event.
Following the controversy of WTT’s change in the rules for the draw, let us go over what we know about the system again. ITTF appears to have asked WTT, whose executives appear to largely have a background in tennis, to essentially copy the professional tennis world tour in almost all aspects, including seeding.
First, the top two seeds are placed on opposite sides of the brackets. WTT hasn’t been clear about how seeds three and four are drawn, but we do know that they will each face a top two seed in the semi-finals (unless there is an upset along the way). Seeds five through eight are then treated equally and each randomly assigned a top four seed to play in the quarter-finals.
After that, nobody really seems to know what is going on. In WTT Contender, all players outside of the top eight were treated as unseeded players, resulting in some match-ups between two top-16 players in the round of 32. WTT Star Contender, which has 48 players instead of 32, appears to have given top-16 players a bit more respect as it seems that only players in the bottom 32 have to play a round of 64 match.
In the case of WTT Contender, WTT later released a video stating (for the most part) how their draw was done, and hopefully they do something similar for WTT Star Contender. Having set the draw confusion aside, let us now take a look at the actual draw and highlight interesting players, storylines, and match-ups in the earlier rounds.
Can Hugo Calderano take back the Olympic fourth seed from Lin Yun-Ju?
The most compelling storyline in the men’s singles is the race for the Olympic fourth seed. After Lin Yun-Ju reached the finals and Calderano was upset in the quarter-finals in WTT Contender, Lin now holds a narrow lead over Calderano in the world rankings. This means that if both players suffer early round upsets, Lin would be in position to have the fourth seed at the Tokyo Olympics, and with it the guarantee not to play any Chinese players until the semi-finals.
However, neither player plans to be upset in the first round, and Calderano still controls his own destiny as he can retake the Olympic fourth seed from Lin by beating him in the semi-finals. Although this storyline could likely be better classified as a late round storyline, it is important for both players to avoid being upset in the first few rounds. As a reminder, if both players suffer early upsets, the Lin walks out of Doha with control of the Olympic fourth seed.
Potential 2019 World Championships Semi-Final Rematch…In the Round of 32!
Since WTT appears to have treated top 16 seeds with more respect this time, the early round likely won’t be as chaotic as last time. However, one compelling round of 32 match-up will be a re-match of the 2019 World Championships semi-final between An Jaehyun and Mattias Falck.
Eventual champion Dimitrij Ovtcharov upset Falck in the quarter-finals at WTT Contender, and An Jaehyun lost fairly comfortably to Hugo Calderano in the round of 16. Both players will look to play better in WTT Star Contender, and Falck will get an early test with An. For An, the challenge lies even earlier, as he must first play Benedikt Duda in the round of 64.
Olympic Team Korea vs Japan Semi-Final Preview In the Round of 16
WTT Star Contender will also see two additional top eight seeds that were not present at WTT Contender: Korean stars Jang Woojin and Jeoung Youngsik. Japanese stars Koki Niwa and Jun Mizutani will also be joining the fold as top 16 seeds.
Coincidentally, barring early round upsets, Jeoung will play Koki Niwa in the round of 16 and Jang Woojin will play Jun Mizutani in a preview of a potential Korea-Japan Olympic semi-final. It is very likely that at least one of these two matches would also happen at the Olympics.
So far, the Japanese women have been on a completely different level from the Korean women at WTT Doha, and Jang and Jeoung will be hoping to show that the same is not true for the men.
Can the victims of last week’s chaotic draw make deeper runs at WTT Star Contender?
The women’s singles had an extremely chaotic draw at WTT Contender due to the new rules, with top 16 seeds Lily Zhang, Britt Eerland, and Bernadette Szocs having to play respective top-four seeds Kasumi Ishikawa, Mima Ito, and Cheng I-Ching in the first round. All three played quite well, with Zhang and Eerland going the full five games and Szocs landing an upset over Cheng. However, since Szocs lost to the underrated Miyuu Kihara in the next round, Szocs was only rewarded 35 ranking points for her hard works.
If all three players play similarly, or as they would hope better, compared to their performance at WTT Contender, they should expect to make deeper runs and amass more ranking points in the process. If they play to their seeding, they can reach the round-of-16, and if they play like they did last week, they all have opportunities score a round-of-16 upset to reach the quarter-finals. This is particularly true for Eerland and Szocs as they will not have to play a top-four seed until the quarter-finals
The top eight seed in Eerland’s part of the bracket is Suh Hyowon, who has recently been struggling against her lower ranked Korean teammates. Szocs projects to play Jeon Jihee. Both players fell victim to Miyuu Kihara’s sensational run to the semi-finals at WTT Contender and will be looking to redeem themselves. Zhang has a harder draw and is projected to play top seed Mima Ito in the round of 16.
Will Miyuu Kihara and Hina Hayata continue to outperform Miu Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa?
WTT Contender saw three Japanese women make it to the semi-finals, but it wasn’t the Olympic team. Instead Mima Ito was joined by the lower ranked Miyuu Kihara and Hina Hayata. Although Ishikawa/Hirano defeated Kihara/Hayata in the double’s event en route to the women’s double championship title, Kihara and Hayata clearly outperformed their higher ranked national teammates last week.
Hayata in particular upset Kasumi Ishikawa and nearly upset Mima Ito to win the whole event. Hayata will be looking to score another round-of-16 match-up against Cheng I-Ching, which would also benefit Kasumi Ishikawa in the race for the Olympic fourth seed, and Kihara is slated to face Hirano in the round of 16 (although Kihara will first have to pull off an upset in the round of 32). Ishikawa’s early-round draws look more favorable as she does not have to play her teammate or a top seed; she is projected to face off against Elizabeta Samara (WR 34).
Can Team Koala’s top seeds avoid early round upsets this time?
The top eight seeds from Team Koala, the highly vaunted international women’s team at the China Super League consisting of Lily Zhang, Adriana Diaz, Jeon Jihee, Cheng I-Ching, and Doo Hoi Kem, had quite a disappointing WTT Contender performance last week. Despite being top-eight seeds, Diaz and Cheng were both upset in the first round, and Jeon Jihee was upset by Miyuu Kihara in the quarter-finals.
As we mentioned earlier, Cheng will receive and early test in WTT Contender finalist Hina Hayata and Jeon will look to avenge Cheng in a potential round-of-16 match-up against Bernadette Szocs. Adriana Diaz may end up with an even earlier challenge against WTT Contender semi-finalist Yu Mengyu in the round of 32.