QATAR has emerged as a top-notch sports destination, having hosted several major international competitions, including last year’s Handball and Boxing World Championships. 

The International Table Tennis Federation’s (ITTF) Seamaster 2016 World Tour Grand Finals, which starts at the Ali bin Hamad Al Atiyah Arena on Thursday, will further enhance Qatar’s reputation as one of the premier hosts .

“It’s a proud moment for us. I thank the ITFF for giving us the opportunity to host the elite competition,” Qatar Table Tennis Association President Khalil Ahmed Al Mohannadi told Doha Stadium Plus.

The four-day knockout tournament will see top 16 men and women players compete for a total prize money of $500,000.

Olympic champions Ma Long and Ding Ning of China, who are also the holders in the men’s and women’s section respectively, will start as favourites. 

Both Ma and Ding are familiar names in Doha, with the former winning the World Tour Qatar Open in March and the latter finishing as runner-up to compatriot Liu Shiwen. 

That three-time Grand Finals winner Liu is barred by China from participating in international competitions after she withdrew from the World Cup team in October makes Ding’s chances even brighter.

“The Chinese team has suspended Liu from participating in international competitions,” head coach of women’s team Kong Linghui told Sina Sports.

Liu had said that she was mentally exhausted after the Olympic Games. “I was reluctant to participate in the World Cup. I wasn’t psychologically prepared. I’ll obey the team’s decision. I hope I’ll get back soon and compete for a place at the 2020 Tokyo Games,” said Liu. 

The tournament has competitions in six categories — men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and Under-21 men’s and women’s singles.

The singles competition will have 16 players, the men’s and women’s doubles feature eight pairs and Under-21 events eight players.

Japanese pair of Masataka Morizono and Yuya Oshima and South Korea’s Jeon Jihee and Yang Haeun are expected to dominate the men’s and women’s category respectively.  

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