By Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Both were playing in their first ever Olympic Games semi-final; Ma Long had been present in London four years ago but he had only played in the Men’s Team event.
Trademark Nigerian in his style, I could be watching Atanda Musa of yesteryear, powerful forehand top spin attacking strokes with the racket finishing above his head, Quadri Aruna needed time to play.
Ma Long, totally focused, the man with a mission, gave his gallant adversary no time to play to expansive power house pile-drivers.
Do the leading Chinese players time the ball that split second earlier than most mortals?
My view is in the affirmative and certainly Ma Long was more than a split second faster.
The crowd did its best to raise the man from Lagos to new unprecedented heights with cries of “Aruna, Aruna, Aruna”.
On his 28th birthday, after being somewhat overwhelmed in the first three games Quadri Aruna responded in the fourth; at 5-all he stood toe-toe with the reigning World champion but there was to be no sensational recovery.
Ma Long moved through the gears.
“As an African player, it’s not easy that he made it to the quarter-finals stage; he was able to defeat Chuang Chih-Yuan and Timo Boll. His forehand and footwork are great, I think also because he doesn’t play much internationally, we are not familiar with his playing style and characteristics; that could have surprised his opponents and they couldn’t react and adapt in time.” Ma Long.
Present of Different Kind
However, was there in fact a present for Quadri Aruna?
Throughout the contest Ma Long had given 100 per cent, Liu Guoliang, the head coach of the Chinese Men’s Team, had prepared his charge. The pace was never eased for a second.
It showed the high level of respect that Liu Guoliang, 20 years ago the Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles gold medallist in Atlanta, alongside the current best player in the world, had for a player who is a true sportsman, a role model for all.
Quadri Aruna had earned the respect of the very best; that is a very special present.