Zhang, Ding out to defend table tennis World titles
Zhang Jike returns a shot during the Asia-Europe all-stars series table tennis in Qingdao, China on March 17, 2013. He says he is relishing his return to Paris this week as he aims to retain his title won two years ago in Rotterdam at the world table tennis championships.
Zhang defeated compatriot Wang Hao in the 2011 final before triumphing over the same opponent later that year in the French capital for his maiden World Cup victory.
The 25-year-old then added the Olympic title to his collection at London 2012 to complete a career Grand Slam and is eagerly anticipating taking to the Bercy arena to defend his world championship crown.
"I am feeling no pressure now and I have been well prepared. I can't wait for my first match," said Zhang.
"I won my first World Cup two years ago here, so I think Paris is my lucky place," he added.
Zhang enters the week-long tournament as the fourth seed following a string of inconsistent displays but downplayed its significance, insisting: "The important thing is to win the match, not the ranking. The top players in the world will be revealed anyway."
Compatriot Xu Xin, a potential semi-final opponent for Zhang, is the No.1 seed after regaining the world's top ranking from compatriot Ma Long last month, but he too sought to minimise its importance.
"The world ranking is just about placements, it is not enough to give you good results; so I still adopt a lower profile and have a positive attitude to fight," explained Xu, one of 23 players in the China squad that will be seeking to complete another clean sweep in all five events.
German duo Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov will headline the list of contenders seeking to challenge Chinese supremacy.
Women's title-holder Ding Ning says defeat to Li Xiaoxia in last summer's Olympic final is her greatest motivator as she seeks to banish those painful memories from London.
"(It's) equally a burden as it is a motivation. It's motivation to do a better job," said Ding, who's been at the top of the women's rankings since November 2011.
The 22-year-old, however, has been slowed by a knee problem this term.
"I first had the injury during the Squad Trials in Chengdu," she revealed.
"It is an old injury. In order to avoid any impact in the forthcoming World Championships, it needs to be protected," Ding added, possibly exposing a weakness upon which her rivals may seek to capitalise.
Liu Shiwen and London 2012 champion Li occupy the second and third seeds respectively, while Feng Tianwei of Singapore is the highest non-Chinese entrant at four.