Saive targets English Open

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Table tennis

Jean-Michel Saive, the European champion, aims to mark his new No 1 world ranking by winning the English Open and the first stage of the International Table Tennis Federation professional tour, starting at the Kettering Arena today.

The 27-year-old Belgian has been elevated to the world's top spot following his victory in the final of the Qatar Open at Dohar when he routed the opposition, including the top Chinese players.

As the finals of the professional tour will be held in there in December, China has sent its most powerful team to Kettering, led by the world champion and top seed Qong Linghui. He will be supported by the world No 2, Wang Tao, and two other highly rated players, Ma Wenge and Lu Lin, while Saive is only seeded third this time.

Saive, who will defend his European title in Bratislava, Slovakia, this month is favourite for the Olympic men's singles title in Atlanta next July.

Carl Prean, from the Isle of Wight is the top British seed in the event at No 12 in the men's singles, while Berkshire's Matthew Syed, the British No 1, will play from the No 13 position.

Despite being the new England champion, Derbyshire's Alan Cooke is down at No 19 while in the women's ranks, the England No 1, Lisa Lomas, still struggling with shoulder injuries, is seeded No 18 with the 1995 England champion, Andrea Holt, at No 20, and the national title-holder, Alison Brow, at No 27.

The women's events at Kettering will almost certainly be dominated by players from the Far East, with Taiwan's Chen Jing seeded No 1 followed by the Canadian-based former Chinese player Geng Lijuan. The only European among the top women's seeds is Bettine Vreisekoop, of the Netherlands, who is listed at seven.

Play begins today with qualifying rounds with the finals scheduled for Monday afternoon.