by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Ma Long was the dominant player of the moment but the big stage, the biggest stage of all was where four years ago in London, Zhang Jike had proved himself very much at home.
Best Versus Best
Arguably the best backhand in the world against the best forehand, with each player most adept at what might be described as their weaker wing but which is the equal or the better than rest of humanity.
Nervous moments, rallies minimal, it was the best forehand that gained first blood; in the second game that stroke was in overdrive at the start, it forced errors from the racket of Zhang Jike. The first game was lose, the second was not, Ma Long sped into a two games to nil lead.
The momentum was with Ma Long, Zhang Jike had to do something special, he had to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Alas for the defending champion, in a game that witnessed breath-taking rallies played at the speed of light, it was Ma Long who held the aces.
Zhang Jike was by no means playing badly or below his level, simply Ma Long was playing at a level never that no mortal could match.
He could do no wrong, he was on fire, it was the very opposite for Zhang Jike, nothing was going right. Ma Long won the first three points of the third game; Zhang Jike had no option, he called “Time Out”.
The gap was reduced to one point at 3-2 but that was the nearest Zhang Jike came; Ma Long was not to be denied. The four year reign of Zhang Jike was over, Ma Long was the Olympic Games Men’s Singles champion and in an awesome manner.
Had he ever played better? Impossible! The performance was such that if it had been measurable it would have been an Olympic and World record!
I played well throughout the match; the title is only possible with that high level of play. We both know each other very well, so it’s not a competition of skills but more of mentality and psychology. For me, I’m not defending any title here, so I have less pressure on court. After winning, I’m still feeling calm. I think I have improved. Ma Long
Victory it was success for the fifth time for China for the fifth player; no player has ever won the title more than one.
Liu Guoliang was the first to secure gold when he won in Atlanta 20 years ago in 1996, he was followed in 2000 in Sydney by Kong Linghui; before more recently Ma Lin succeeded in Beijing in 2008 and four years ago Zhang Jike was anointed in London.
The crucial part of the match lies in the first game; I was still slow in my reacting and weaker in rallies with my backhand. If I had won the first game, the whole match might have turned a different way. Ma Long’s skills are better than mine, no matter is it in his first three strokes, or changing between attacking and blocking. Congratulations to him. Zhang Jike
Overall China now has a total of 14 Men’s Singles Olympic Games medals. Prior Rio de Janeiro, Wang Tao was the runner up in 1996, the lot that was to befall Wang Hao in the three most recent Olympic Games,
Meanwhile, to complete the list Ma Wenge won bronze in 1992 in Barcelona to become the first ever Chinese player to win a medal of any colour for China in an Olympic Games Men’s Singles event.
Likewise, Liu Guoliang reserved the third step of the podium in 2000 in Sydney, as dod Wang Liqin in 2004 and 2008.