Post London 2012
Zhang Jike joined an elite club of grand slam winners alongside the likes of Jan-Ove Waldner and Liu Guoliang, following his success in London. However, during the following year Zhang struggled with consistency, going from a quarter-finals exit to Taku Takakiwa at the 2013 Austrian Open, to rejoicing with a victory over Wang Hao in the final of the 2013 World Championships.
2014 should have been a year Zhang Jike could look back on with fondness, winning the Men’s World Cup in Düsseldorf in spectacular fashion. But after taking match point in the seventh game of the final against Ma Long, Zhang became embroiled in controversy; kicking and damaging two of the boards surrounding the court, and losing the $45,000 prize money which went towards promoting fair play instead.
2014 Men’s World Cup Highlights: Ma Long vs Zhang Jike (Final)
Zhang’s Downward Spiral
China enjoyed a glorious campaign at the 2015 World Team Cup in Dubai, and Zhang Jike played an important role, ending the competition undefeated. Then, as the year progressed Zhang went through a slight dip in form.
First up was the 2015 World Championships hosted in his home country, and despite a solid performance to seal the men’s doubles cup with partner Xu Xin, Zhang fell short in the men’s singles event, exiting at the semi-finals stage to Fang Bo.
Looking to bounce back, Zhang took part in the 2015 China Open only to be eliminated by Chuang Chih-Yuan in the second round of the main draw. Austrian player Stefan Fegerl then caused a major shock by beating Zhang in the semi-finals of the Polish Open, while the Swedish Open saw Zhang knocked-out in the round of 16 by Jens Lundqvist.
Zhang ended 2015 by reaching the last four of the ITTF Grand Finals, before losing out to Ma Long 4-2.
Entering the current Olympic year, all eyes were on Zhang Jike. With rumours that his men’s singles place for Rio 2016 could be challenged by one of Xu Xin, Fang Bo or rising star teenager Fan Zhendong, it was important that the London 2012 men’s singles champion began to display the type of play that saw him win the Olympic title four years previously. He progressed to the final of the 2016 Asian Cup and despite Xu Xin taking the prize, it was nonetheless a positive start to the year for Zhang.
Disappointment came in the penultimate round of the German Open as Zhang suffered another defeat at the hands of Ma Long, but a couple of months later at the Kuwait Open it was Zhang who stood victorious over Ma to claim the gold medal.
Another standout moment for Zhang Jike in 2016 was helping China win the World Team Championship trophy in Malaysia. However, since then Zhang has been on the receiving end of an early tournament upset as Chen Chien-An stunned him in the opening match of the main draw at the Korean Open as recently as June.
Rio 2016 Glory or Disappointment for Zhang?
Zhang Jike has been selected to represent China in the men’s singles event at Rio 2016, but unlike the 2012 Olympic Games he enters as the 2nd seed behind Ma Long. There have certainly been many disappointing moments for Zhang over the previous four years, but he has also shown that he can deliver results when the pressure is on.
Can Zhang Jike achieve back-to-back Olympic singles titles come the conclusion of the 2016 Olympic Games? Or is there another upset waiting around the corner?
by Simon Daish