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Doha Masters: Players to Watch (Men's)

Current European Champion Robert Mshvidobadze (RUS) is the top ranked player and the one to beat. His main rivals are his compatriot Yago Abuladze whom he beat in last year’s European Championships but whom he lost to in the final of last year’s Hungary Grand Slam. Other players he’s recently lost to who will be in Doha are Sharafuddin Lutfillaev (UZB), Yeldos Smetov (KAZ), Diyorbek Urozboev (UZB), Yang Yung Wei (TPE), Ryuju Nagayama (JPN) and Amartuvshin Dashdavaa (MGL). So, he won’t have it easy. The current world champion is Lukhumi Chkhvimiani (GEO) but he has a 0-4 track record against Mshvidobadze so he isn’t really considered a dangerous rival.

The top seed here is Manuel Lombardo (ITA). He was recently beaten by Orkhan Safarov (AZE) in last year’s European Championships but he had beaten Safarov in the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, so a rematch could go either way. Another player who could prove to be troublesome for him is Denis Vieru (MDA) who has beaten him twice. Other top prospects worth watching in this category are Baruch Shmailov (ISR) and Yakub Shamilov (RUS), both of whom have beaten him before. Three exciting players he hasn’t fought in an IJF World Tour event before are Tal Flicker (ISR), Nijat Shikalizada (AZE) and Georgii Zantaraia (UKR). An Ba-ul (KOR) is a threat though Lombardo has beaten him twice already.

The top seed here is Soichi Hashimoto (JPN). Although not as dominant and feared as Shohei Ono, he has a pretty good track record against international players. Contestants he has lost to in the past are Musa Mogushkov (RUS), Tommy Macias (SWE), Arthur Margelidon (CAN) and An Changrim (KOR). Exciting players who might be dark horses are Akil Gjakova (KOS), Lasha Shavdatuashvili (GEO) and Fabio Basile (ITA).

The top seed may be Matthias Casse (BEL) but the match that everyone wants to see is Sagi Muki (ISR) vs Saeid Mollaei (formerly of IRI but now representing MGL). Will it happen? We’ll see. But a Casse vs Muki rematch from the 2019 World’s would be exciting too. Muki will have the upper hand. They’ve fought eight times and Casse has only won twice (once by default). Other players who could give Casse some trouble are Mollaei, Luka Maisuradze (GEO), Aslan Lappinagov (RUS) and Frank De Wit (NED) — all of whom have beaten him before.

The top seed is Cuba’s Ivan Felipe Silva Morales but the reigning World Champion is Noel Van ‘t End (NED). The Dutchman hasn’t been doing so well in international competitions lately though, having failed to medal in his last five international competitions. The field is wide open with many top contenders including Nemanja Majdov (SRB), Krisztian Toth (HUN), Mihael Zgank (TUR), Mikhail Igolnikov (RUS), Gwak Donghan (KOR) and the always exciting Beka Gviniashvili (GEO). You also can’t discount the Japanese, Shoichiro Mukai.

Top seed Peter Paltchik of Israel is on a high, having won some major titles last year, including the European Championships. But the -100kg division is one of the toughest. Michael Korrel (NED), Varlam Liparteliani (GEO), Shady Elnahas (CAN), Niyaz Ilyasov (RUS) and Arman Adamian (RUS) have all beaten him before. Two other players who could give him trouble are the former World Champion Cho Guham (KOR) and the reigning World Champion Jorge Fonseca (POR).

The most watched player here will be Teddy Riner of France although he is ranked outside the Top 20 due to his low participation in international competitions. He’s still the top favorite though. The man who beat him in his last competition (the 2019 Paris Grand Slam), Kokoro Kageura (JPN) is not competing. Instead, representing Japan will be Hisayoshi Harasawa, who has lost to him twice but had given him a tough fight both times. Fans will want to see Riner go up against Guram Tushishvili and Levani Matiashvili, both of Georgia, who have given Riner a real run for his money in the past. Matches against either of the two Russians, Inal Tasoev and Tamerlan Bashaev, the two Dutchmen, Roy Meyer and Henk Grol, and Or Sasson of Israel, would all have the fans cheering too. 


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Doha Masters: Players to Watch (Women's)

The top-ranked player here is Kosovo’s Distria Krasniqi but the queen of this category is without doubt Daria Bilodid (UKR). She recently stumbled in last year’s Hungary Grand Slam when she lost in the quarterfinal round but to be fair, she was competing in the -52kg category. She is now back to -48kg, where she really reigns supreme. In that category, she has only been defeated once since late 2017. The player who beat her, Melanie Clement of France (in the 2019 Tblisi Grand Prix) will be contesting in Doha. But it is worth mentioning that Clement had subsequently lost to Bilodid in the 2019 Minsk Europeans. Kosovo’s Krasniqi has fought and lost to Bilodid twice but that was in 2018, the year Krasniqi moved down from -52kg to -48kg. She has since adjusted well to her new weight and has been showing impressive results, including wins in the 2019 Qindao World Masters, 2020 Paris Grand Slam and 2020 Hungary Grand Slam. A match up against Bilodid would be a one for the fans. The other player who could give her a lot of trouble is Japan’s Funa Tonaki. Although the Japanese player has lost to her four times already, their most recent match, in the final of the 2019 World Championships, was a closely fought one.

Top seed Amandine Buchard of France is the only non-Japanese player to have beaten Uta Abe (in the 2019 Osaka Grand Slam) since the Japanese whiz kid made her international debut in late 2016. Abe subsequently beat her in the 2020 Dusseldorf Grand Prix, so a rematch would have been very exciting. But alas, Abe will not be competing in Doha. In her place is former World Champion Ai Shishime. Their match-ups so far is 2:3 in favour of the Japanese, so if they meet again in Doha, it will be an interesting one. Another top prospect is Odette Giuffrida (ITA), the reigning European Champion. But they’ve fought four times and Buchard won each time. You can’t discount World and Olympic Champion Majlinda Kelmendi (KOS) although she has been away from competition for more than a year and no longer seems to be the dominant force she once was. She has fought Buchard three times and won on all three occasions.

This category has long been the toughest category in the women’s division, with both young and more experienced top contenders at play. In Doha, the top seed is Jessica Klimkait (CAN), a drop-seoi-nage specialist who has been doing extremely well in international competitions. An obvious rival is Japan’s Tsukasa Yoshida, with whom she has a 2:2 track record. It should be mentioned though that the Canadian won their last two exchanges, both in 2019. Perhaps a harder challenger is Kosovo’s Nora Gjakova whom she has never beaten (they’ve fought three times, so far). Other players who could give her a hard time are Lien Chen-Ling (TPE), Sumiya Dorjsuren (MGL) and Daria Mezhetskaia (RUS), all of whom have beaten Klimkait before.

The top-seed and hands-on favorite is Clarisse Agbegnenou (FRA) but the No. 2 is Nami Nabekura (JPN) who had defeated Agbegnenou in the 2019 Qingdao World Masters. Agbegnenou got her revenge a few months later in the 2020 Paris Grand Slam. So, a rematch would be super exciting for the fans. Tina Trstenjak (SLO), Agbegnenou’s traditional rival, will not be competing in Doha.

The top two seeds in this category are both from France: Marie Eve Gahie and Margaux Pinot. They had fought in the bronze medal match at the 2019 Qingdao World Masters, and there it was Gahie who prevailed. Top challengers to Gahie are Sanne Van Dijke (NED) who has won five out of the last six times they have fought; Barbara Matic (CRO) who has won five out of the last seven times they fought; and Michaela Polleres (AUT) who has a 3:3 record against Gahie. Interestingly, Pinot has also fought Matic seven times and lost five of those bouts.  

There are three top French players contesting in this category. The top seed is World Champion Madeleine Malonga, while the number three and number seven spots are her compatriots Fanny Estelle Posvite and veteran campaigner Audrey Tcheumeo, respectively. With so many top French players here, it’s a good bet one of them will make it to the final, though Malonga is the favorite. The number two seed is former World Champion Shori Hamada (JPN). In the 2019 Tokyo World Championships, Malonga defeated Hamada in the individual event but lost to her in the team’s event. Other rivals to Malonga is Natalie Powell, with whom she has a 6:6 track record, and Luise Malzahn (GER) with whom Malonga has a 5:5 track record.

The top two seeds are Idalys Ortiz (CUB) and Maria Suelen Altheman (BRA) who are 31 and 32 years old respectively. Ortiz is an Olympic and double World Champion and the most accomplished in the field. Out to challenge her is 21-year-old European Champion Romane Dicko (FRA). They had fought once before, where the Cuban was the victor, but that was way back in 2017 when the French player was still a teenager. Dicko, though unseeded, had an impressive year in 2020, winning the Tel Aviv Grand Prix, the Paris Grand Slam and lastly the Prague European Champions. She will be the one to watch.

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