Ma_LongDecember 17 - World table tennis champions from China are among the earliest entries for next month's 66th ITTF Pro Tour English Open Championships in Sheffield.

Ma Long (pictured) and Guo Yan lead the field in what was voted the best table tennis event in the world last year.

They have been closely followed by entrants from South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.

"This is really exciting," said event director Mike Holt.

"To receive such high ranking entries so early is a really good sign.

"Clearly last year's success when we received the award from the International Table Tennis Federation has had a real impact.

"Word has got around that the English Open is a top class event and for the first entries to come from China - the top table tennis nation in the world - is very welcome."

England's number one Paul Drinkhall will have his best chance of success in the competitive Under 21 event where he is ranked number eight in the world.

He will be challenged by most of the top players from the Far East including his great rivals Xu Zin and Fang Bo.

The event runs from January 26-30 at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.