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Aruna, Assar get tough opponents at ITTF World Cups

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Nigeria’s Aruna Loses Gold Medal Contest To Main Rival, Assar Of Egypt -

Nigeria’s sole flagbearer at the ITTF World Cups Macao 2024, Quadri Aruna has been drawn in Group 15 of the men’s singles as the Nigerian will slug it out against Portugal’s Marcos Freitas and Puerto Rico’s Daniel Gonzalez. Egypt’s Omar Assar has also been handed a tough task of progressing from the group.

The 48 players have been drawn into 16 groups of three players in each group with the winner in each group advancing to the second stage of the competition.

Aruna who has been regular face at the ITTF World Cups remains the first and only African to have reached the quarterfinal stage of the $1m prize money tournament and he is expected to begin his campaign against Portugal’s Freitas on Monday, April 15 while his last group match will be on Tuesday, April 16 against Puerto Rico’s Gonzalez.

Also, Egypt’s trio of Omar Assar, Ahmed Saleh and Mohamed El-Beiali have been drawn into group 16, 11 and nine respectively.

African Games champion Assar will slug it out against Sweden’s Truls Moregard and Iran’s Noshad Alamiyan.

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Egyptian veteran Saleh has been handed a tough group 11 as he will battle former European champion Dan Qui of Germany and Japan’s Shunsuke Togami. El-Beiali who is debuting at the ITTF World will jostle for top spot against Korea’s Jang Woojin and France’s Simon Gauzy in group nine.

Also, three Egyptians and a Cameroonian will represent Africa in the women’s singles as Yousra Helmy, Hana Goda and Mariam Alhodaby will campaign in group nine, 12 and 11 while Cameroon’s Sarah Hanffou will compete in 11 alongside Korea’s Joo Cheonhui  and Brazil’s Bruna Takahashi.

According to ITTF,  top seed Wang Chuqin of China is set to commence this inaugural Men’s World Cup campaign against Kirill Gerassimenko and An Jaehyun in Group 1. With flawless head-to-head records against both opponents (2:0 against Gerassimenko and 5:0 against An), Wang appears to have a favourable path to progress to the next stage. With two previous titles in Macao at the WTT Champions Macao 2023 and 2022, Wang is setting the stage for an impressive performance next week that is sure to delight fans.

The defending champion, Fan Zhendong, will embark on his title defense against Wong Chun Ting and Benedikt Duda. With an impressive 16-match win streak, Fan aims to continue his momentum by securing his 17th and 18th victories early in the tournament. Recently claiming the WTT Feeder Varazdin 2024 title and a Mixed Doubles ticket to the Paris Olympic Games, Wong is currently in top form and will pose quite a challenge to the World No. 2.

In the Women’s Singles, top seed Sun Yingsha faces her initial challenges in Group 1 against Chen Szu-Yu and Zhu Chengzhu. Having encountered both opponents multiple times and emerging victorious in each encounter, Sun’s campaign in the World Cup is expected to commence without major obstacles. Nonetheless, given the new four game format, the outcome on the table remains unpredictable, leaving room for any player to seize victory.

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In Group 4, defending champion Chen Meng will confront Sreeja Akula and Natalia Bajor as she strives to reclaim her title. This encounter will represent the first meeting between the 2020 Women’s World Cup winner and either Akula or Bajor. Notably, Akula and Bajor have only faced each other once before in 2019, where Akula emerged victorious with a narrow 4-3 margin.

2016 Women’s World Cup winner, Miu Hirano will kick off her 2024 World Cup run facing off Jia Nan Yuan and Jocelyn Lam in Group 14. A sense of intrigue surrounding this group, this will mark the first encounter for any of these players on the international stage.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Aruna and Egypt’s Meshref reclaim ITTF Africa Cup title

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Quadri Aruna and Dina Meshref reclaimed the ITTF Africa Cup title after winning the 2024 edition at BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Aruna, the top seed still fresh from his exploits at the WTT Saudi Smash, was again unstoppable with a commanding win in the final against Egypt’s Mohamed El-Beiali.

The one-sided final saw Aruna effortlessly take down the Egyptian with a 4-0 (11-5, 11-6, 12-10, 11-3) win to emerge as the new Africa Cup champion after losing the title to Egypt’s Omar Assar in 2018.

“There was never an easy win in any competition, and I am happy that I gave my best and my best resulted in the victory.

“It has always been in me not to give up, even when I am down, and I am happy that all my hardwork paid off with the victory.

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“I must commend Rwanda for providing good facilities and their hospitality for us, the players, and I look forward to returning again to this beautiful country,” World No. 19 said.

Like Aruna, Meshref was at her best after coming back from 2-0 down to defeat her compatriot, Mariam Alhodaby, 4-3 to become the new Africa Cup champion after losing the last two editions in the final.

A relieved Meshref described the victory as crucial, particularly coming back from injury.

“I am happy that I was able to come back, especially coming back from an injury I sustained before the tournament.

“I must thank my family and my mother, who sacrificed to be with me in Rwanda. It was a tough win for me here in this beautiful country of Rwanda, and I will cherish this moment for a very long time to come,” she said.

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The tournament has over 50 players from 14 countries taking part as players brace up for the African Olympic Qualification Tournament, which begins on May 16 and ends on May 18.

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Rwanda raises bar in table tennis as Africa plays in Kigali

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As the 2024 ITTF Africa Cup and Africa Olympic Qualification Tournament get under way in Kigali, Rwanda, with an international press conference on Saturday, May 11, the host country has surpassed expectations, especially in terms of the world-class facilities the government and people of Rwanda have put in place at the 10,000-capacity BK Arena for both events. 

 Consequently, it was the elated President of the Rwanda Table Tennis Federation (RTTF), John Birungi, who spoke at the press conference, pitching Rwanda’s readiness to host bigger sporting events like the world championships to emulate Egypt and South Africa.

Birungi, who brimmed with great enthusiasm, said, “I am so happy that it has become a reality that we are hosting two major competitions on the continental calendar. This is the first time we are hosting major African championships in the year of the Olympic Games. We are very ambitious and capable of hosting WTT events to toe the line of Egypt and South Africa, the only two African nations to have hosted the world championships. 

“We are very grateful to the  ITTF and the ATTF for considering us and their firm belief in us that we can stage a major competition of this status. This would not have been possible without the huge support of the Government of Rwanda and other supporters, and we are not taking this for granted. We are confident that we can do bigger events in the near future.”

Thrilled by the state-of-the-art venue, the BK Arena, President of the African Table Tennis Federation (ATTF), Khaled El-Salhy, lauded the Birungi-led board of the RTTF for matching their words with action with the quality of the venue and other facilities in place for the tournament.

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 “I am so excited that this is a reality based on the promise made when the hosting rights were awarded to Rwanda in Tunis last year. From the look of things, it is clear that Rwanda is capable. They have shown great ambition with what they have put in place. We are very excited that they are hosting a tournament of this magnitude for the first time. They have put everything in place to ensure a hitch-free event,” El-Salhy said.

The 2024 ITTF Africa Cup and Africa Olympic Qualification Tournament will be held from May 12 to 18. 17 countries will compete in the three-day tournament.

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Aruna marches on at Saudi Smash

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Nigeria’s Aruna Loses Gold Medal Contest To Main Rival, Assar Of Egypt -

Just like he did in the first round, Quadri Aruna continued his superb display after taking down Lee Sang Su of South Korea 3-2 in the second round of the men’s singles at the WTT Saudi Smash taking place at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

The Nigerian, who is ranked 19th in the world, was at his best from the start of the encounter, dominating the first two games to win 11-9, 11-9. But the Korean fought back in the third and fourth games to level up at 9-11, 7-11.

In the deciding encounter, Aruna raced to the lead with a 4-1 win, but the Korean thwarted his lead to 4-4 with both players playing with a lot of caution.

Even when Aruna was hitting the ball hard for the Korean, it was as if his shots were not too much for his opponent, who took the lead and was on the verge of victory at 10-8.

A backhand topspin from Aruna became the undoing of the Korean, who lost two points to allow the Nigerian to level up at 10-10.

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A missed shot from Aruna again handed the Korean 11-10 lead, as only a point was all the Asian star needed to avenge his last meeting loss against Aruna.

Just like he did in the first round against Indian legend Sharath Achanta, Aruna stood his ground and fought like a true champion to match the Korean shot-for-shot, which eventually went his way for the tie to go 10-10.

Two missed shots were what Aruna needed to silence the supporting Asians at the venue of the match, as the Nigerian laughed last with a 13-11 win to become the second player to reach the second round after Iran’s Noshad Alamiyan took down world number five Jingkun Liang 3-2 to cause the first upset of Day 3 of the $2 million prize money tournament.

For the third-round tie (round of 16), Aruna will face another Korean in Daeseong Cho on Wednesday, May 8.

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