A tournament of children's birthdays and competitors from far-flung lands
The Liebherr World Table Tennis Championships 2017 have been in full swing since Monday. Plenty of visitors were in attendance in the halls of Messe Düsseldorf right from the beginning. It was pleasing to see that plenty of children and young people from this city in North-Rhine Westphalia and the surrounding area took the opportunity to experience the action in person. They experienced a world-class event in a sport which is fascinating on all levels.
The kids, along with every other spectator, have already enjoyed plenty of entertainment. Whether it be with the Speedmaster that measures the speed they can hit the ball or with the serving machine, one thing is for sure - table tennis at the Liebherr World Championships 2017 can be experienced in many different ways in the entertaining Funpark and at the colorful stands of the many sponsors occupying the World Championship arena. The construction machines of Liebherr in the main hall and in the trade fair grounds between the halls drew a lot of astonished glances, with some of the machines towering over visitors.
Naturally, the opening rounds also gave the spectators what they were looking for in a sporting sense. Germany's top star Timo Boll made his first appearance in the highly anticipated doubles alongside China's Olympic and World Champion Ma Long, with top female player Petrissa Solja appearing in the mixed competition with Chinese World Championship runner-up Fang Bo. The successes of the German-Chinese pairings will boost the atmosphere at the World Championships, with Boll/Ma and Fang/Solja considered before the start of the tournament to be among the best medal hopes for the host country. China's top favorites also left their calling cards in their first games.
It's all about taking part
It is now almost tradition that the first days of the tournament belong to the amateurs who have traveled to the Liebherr World Table Tennis Championships from far-flung countries around the world. When players from Afghanistan or Oman become the first people from their countries to ever play in the World Championships and battle to qualify right down to the final point, the most important concept of sport quite literally comes to life - for these World Championship participants, it really is all about taking part.
All eyes were on Ilyas Allanazarov in Düsseldorf. The player from Turkmenistan celebrated his birthday on the first day of the World Championships - his ninth. When the youngest World Championship participant arrived for his doubles play-off game in the evening, a large crowd had already assembled in the stands and a mass of photographers and camera teams had taken position around the playing area. There is no question that, despite his defeat, this very special birthday for the child of a table tennis-obsessed family was the event of the qualification rounds.
The player at the opposite end of the spectrum to Allanazarov illustrates the size and diversity of the world table tennis community: Chinese-born Luxembourg representative Ni Xia Lian is the oldest player in Düsseldorf at the age of 53. Ni won gold in the team competition for her home country back in 1983 - 25 years before Allanazarov was born.