When world players start their annual competition here on Saturday for the title of the 2013 Women's World Cup of table tennis, it looks again like a gathering of Chinese.
Among the 20 players who are qualified to enter the fierce battle, at least 13 are either Chinese or of Chinese origin.
The powerful China squad is composed of two paddlers, namely Liu Shiwen and Wu Yang. Liu, 22, is considered the favorite for the title at the STARTS Women's World Cup, which runs from Saturday to Monday in the Japanese city of Kobe.
She has never lost a match in the Women's World Cup at her two previous appearances, in 2009 and 2012. The two-time winner qualifies for this year's edition of Women's World Cup as a result of her victory in the GAC Group Asian Cup earlier this year in Hong Kong.
Currently, Liu stands at No. 1 on the women's world rankings. Therefore she is the top seed.
Different from Liu, Wu will make her debut at the Women's World Cup. The 21-year-old player was called to be on duty only days ago after Li Xiaoxia, who qualified for the tournament as the world champion, was forced to withdraw as a result of a back injury suffered during the recent Chinese National Games held in Anshan, Liaoning Province.
In addition to Liu and Wu from Chinese mainland, Jiang Huajun, a runner-up in the 2010 Women's World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, is representing Hong Kong, China.
Besides the three Chinese, there are another 10 players who are of Chinese origin, representing nine countries over six continents.
Among the ten, Seok Ha-jung, a South Korean national now, was born in Anshan, Liaoning Province of China in 1985. She went to South Korea in 2000 and stood as the top female player in the country.
Hsing Ariel, a U.S. player, was born in the U.S. state of California, but her father was from China's Taiwan and her mother from Henan Province of China.
For the remaining seven paddlers, Japan contributed three. With Kasumi Ishikawa, Ai Fukuhara and Sayaka Hirano fighting for the host country, the spotlight will be on Fukuhara.
With her first name Ai meaning love, the silver medal winner at the 2012 Summer Olympics is the most popular sports star in Japan.
Fukuhara is also well-known in China, a country where she received coaching from a very young age. So she speaks fluent Mandarin with a northeast accent.
The Women's World Cup has always been won by China since legendary player Deng Yaping succeeded in the first edition of the tournament in Hong Kong in 1996.
In fact, when Romania's Elizabeta Samara secured a silver medal in 2012, it was the first time that a non-Asian player had reached the final.There may be little chance for a change this year.