Calderano a Beacon of Light for Latin America

By Ray Huang | March 27, 2018, 6:28 p.m. (ET)

For many years, China’s main opposition has stemmed from Japan, Korea, and Germany. But recently, a new challenger has emerged out of the blue—Hugo Calderano of Brazil. He has undeniably established himself as a force to be reckoned with when he unexpectedly took down Lin Gaoyuan, Timo Boll, and Wong Chun Ting. But where exactly did this youngster come from?

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1996, Calderano picked up the paddle at the late age of 8 years old. Quickly rising through the Latin America ranks, he joined the national team at 14 years of age, became the Brazil Junior National Champion in 2011, and by 2013 had taken home the ITTF World Tour Brazil Open. In 2014, he won the bronze medal in the Youth Olympic Games, which was the first Olympic medal for Latin America.

Even before his big 2018 break, Calderano has always stood out from his peers with his refreshing play style. Instead of blasting forehands from both corners of the table, Calderano favors his backhand, often surprising opponents with his powerful down the line backhand loop. Add an inside-out forehand to the down the line backhand, and Calderano manages to bamboozle his opponents with unexpected angles. Like Fan Zhendong, Calderano also relies heavily on his banana flip to initiate topspin rallies.

Kicking off the new year, Calderano managed to take a bronze medal at the ITTF Hungarian Open, losing only to Fan Zhendong. When Calderano defeated Wong Chun Ting at the World Team Table Tennis Championships, all eyes were on the youngster at the ITTF Qatar Open, and Calderano managed to surpass all expectations.

First, in the round of 32, Calderano took down veteran Timo Boll in 5 games, and many were quick to call it luck. However, Calderano silenced doubters by immediately defeating Tomokazu Harimoto in four straight games, and demolished Lin Gaoyuan 4-0 as well. Calderano pinned Lin to his backhand and stopped Lin from stepping around by placing occasional shots to Lin’s wide forehand. This coupled with Calderano’s high toss serves—which he used with great variation—left Lin Gaoyuan with no answers, as he lost the last two games 11-3 and 11-6.

Calderano’s electrifying sprint through the Qatar Open finally fizzled out against Fan Zhendong in the final when he lost 4-0. Inexperience seemed to get the best of Calderano, as even though he was significantly leading in the first two games—8-2 and 9-5—he lost both sets in deuce. Calderano was simply unable to achieve the same consistency as Fan Zhendong. Some points he would hit incredible shots, and others he would fall prey to Fan Zhendong’s calculated pushes and serves.

With his recent victories, Calderano is set to emerge as the new world no.4. But does he have the potential to rise to the number 1 spot like Dimitrij Ovtcharov Calderano has already taken home two medals in ITTF World Tours this year and has exhibited all the necessary weapons—spinny serves, strong loops, and smart play. Furthermore, he does not have any easily exploitable holes in his game. These tools proved effective against Lin Gaoyuan and even against Fan Zhendong. Most importantly, at the ripe age of 21, Calderano still has an enormous amount of room for growth. One thing is for sure: the fans—along with the Chinese National Team—will be keeping a close eye on him.