Fan Zhendong, destined for greater heights?
Photo By: Jamal Hakouz
GAC Group 2013 ITTF World Tour, China Open, Super Series (Click here to access this section)
Zhang Jike is the reigning Olympic and World champion but who will be his successor?
Perhaps the answer lies at the forthcoming ITTF World Tour China Open which starts in Changchun on Wednesday 12th June and concludes on Sunday 16th June 2013.
Wang Hao is a possibility.
He is on duty in his home city; silver medallist in the Menís Singles event at the Olympic Games on three consecutive occasions, he seems to have been about for an eternity but he is only 29 years old.
Not to Old
In 1997 Swedenís Jan-Ove Waldner was 31 years old when he won the Menís Singles title at the World Championships in Manchester and of course Wang Hao has reached the final of the Menís Singles event at the last three World Championships.
However, Wang Hao has a major problem, it is called Zhang Jike. Wang Hao beat Zhang Jike in the final of the LIEBHERR Menís World Cup in 2010 in the German city of Magdeburg but the next seven encounters, including finals at two World Championships, an Olympic Games and a Menís World Cup, have all gone to Zhang Jike.
Rigours Taking Toll
Equally one wonders if the intense rigours of top class sport are now taking their toll on Wang Hao; at the recent LIEBHERR World Championships, the impression given at the press conference following the Menís Singles final was that the time was nigh to take a back seat.
Three Times Beaten by Wang Hao
Also on duty at the ITTF World Tour China Open in Ma Long as is Xu Xin; both started to recent LIEBHERR World Championships as favourites to capture the Menís Singles title but at the semi-final stage neither was on fire.
Ma Long has a long list of achievement to his credit but at the three most recent World Championships on each occasion he has been beaten by Wang Hao in the semi-finals; yet consider their encounters on the ITTF World Tour and Ma Long has the better record.
Is there a slight question mark over Ma Long when it comes to the really big one?
The Jury is Out
Now, perhaps for Xu Xin on the big stage, the LIEBHERR World Championships in Paris was his first appearance in an event of that stature; his problem was the same as that experienced by Wang Hao, Zhang Jike who simply revels on the big stage, itís his home.
The jury is out on Xu Xin.
So, who is the most likely to successor to Zhang Jike.
The Biggest Threat
Certainly we must never forget Germanyís Timo Boll who came so close against Ma Long in the Paris quarter-finals and seems to be one of the very few players, if not the only one, who can threaten the might of the Chinese men.
However, do we need to look further down the list of players competing in Changchun? Also do we need to keep looking at China?
The answer to both questions is in the affirmative.
Note the Names
Note the names of Yan An and Fan Zhendong.
Both are hungry for success, 20 year old Yan An has already impressed on the ITTF World Tour this year, notably losing by the very narrowest of margins to Ma Long in the final in Qatar and beating Zhang Jike in the third round in Korea.
Furthermore note his performance at the recent LIEBHERR World Championships; his was beaten by the experience of Wang Hao but the round before, after a close first game he overwhelmed Kalin Kreanga of Greece. In the previous round Kalin Kreanga had ousted Koreaís Kim Minseok, seen by many as the best young prospect outside China.
Cadet Age Group Player
Equally, if anyone impressed at the Volkswagen World Junior Championships in Hyderabad last December it was Fan Zhendong; at the time still a cadet age group player, he won the Boysí Singles title!
The striking feature was his awesome power; now 16 years old ne stands at no.33 on the Menís World Rankings.
Remember the Moment
Successors to Zhang Jike, quite possible the answer lies in Changchun, the answer lies at the ITTF World Tour China Open; remember the occasion.