Olympic table tennis at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Who are the top table tennis players at Tokyo 2020 in 2021? When and where will Olympic table tennis take place? What is the Olympic history of table tennis? Find out here.
By ZK Goh

Table tennis is one of 33 sports that will take place at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021. But who are the ones to watch? When will competition take place, and where will it be held? Ever wanted to know about the sport’s Olympic history? Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic table tennis.

Top Olympic table tennis players at Tokyo 2020

China is likely to be the dominant force in table tennis at Tokyo 2020 again. As of December 2020, the top four men’s singles players are all Chinese, while the country takes up seven of the top ten spots on the women’s singles world ranking list.

With each country only allowed two players in each singles event in Tokyo, internal competition for those spots will be fierce. Ma Long and Ding Ning, the defending men’s and women’s singles champions respectively from Rio 2016, will each be aiming to add to their three Olympic gold medals.

Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games champion and current world number one Fan Zhendong, who has not dropped out of the world top five since he first reached the milestone in December 2013, is a favourite to challenge Ma. But don’t count out home hope and world number five Harimoto Tomokazu of Japan or Hugo Calderano of Brazil, the first Latin American player to crack the world top ten.

For Ding to make the women’s singles team, she will have to find her way past the world numbers one and two, Chen Meng and Sun Yingsha, in China’s internal selection process. Chen, the defending World Cup and ITTF Finals champion, has made the world number one spot her own since June 2019. Their biggest threat will come from Japan’s Ito Mima and Ishikawa Kasumi, the world numbers three and nine respectively.

Mixed doubles will make its debut at Tokyo 2020, and with only one pair allowed per country, competition will be fierce. If a country has already qualified a three-member team in either gender, the mixed doubles pair must include a member of that team. This would appear to throw a spanner in the works of the Chinese, who have the world’s top-ranked pair of Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen.

While Xu is the current world number two and would be expected to be selected for the men’s team, 2019 women's singles world champion Liu has struggled for form and fitness since then and is only the sixth-ranked Chinese woman. Expect Japan’s Mizutani Jun and Ito, Hong Kong China’s Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem, and Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching to all provide stiff competition.

Olympic table tennis schedule at Tokyo 2020

The competition will take place from 24 July to 6 August 2021, with the mixed doubles and two singles events occurring first. The mixed doubles final is scheduled for 26 July, with the women’s singles final on 29 July and men’s singles final the day after on 30 July. The team events are set to begin on 1 August, with the women’s final on 5 August and the men’s on 6 August.

Olympic table tennis venue at Tokyo 2020

Table tennis at Tokyo 2020 will take place at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, which also hosted the artistic gymnastics competitions at the 1964 Olympic Games. More recently, it has hosted the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships and 2011 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships. It also hosted the 2019 Table Tennis Team World Cup, which served as a Tokyo 2020 test event.

Olympic table tennis competition format at Tokyo 2020

In both men’s and women’s singles, up to 70 players may qualify. With qualification still underway, the final number is yet to be determined. The top 16 players receive a bye through to the third round with the next 16 seeds starting in the second round. From the third round onwards, there will be no byes. Competition will take place as a direct knockout single-elimination tournament.

The mixed doubles competition and the two team events, which will each feature 16 teams, will take place as direct knockout single-elimination tournaments with no byes.

Olympic table tennis history

Table tennis is a relatively new sport to the Olympic Games, having only made its debut at Seoul 1988. China has dominated the sport, winning 28 of the 32 gold medals available since then – South Korea (three) and Sweden (one) have claimed the other four between them.

From its inception until Athens 2004, the four events on offer were men’s and women’s singles and doubles. Since Beijing 2008, the doubles events have been replaced by team events, which feature up to four singles rubbers and a doubles rubber. China has won every table tennis event since Beijing.

Mixed doubles will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

The most successful Olympic table tennis medallist in history is Wang Nan, who won four golds and one silver from Sydney 2000 to the 2008 Games. Deng Yaping and Zhang Yining are the only other athletes to have won four golds, a mark both Ma and Ding could surpass in Tokyo.