by Simon Daish
Ma Long, the Early Years
Born October 20th 1988, the year of the dragon, in Anshan (China) Ma Long was naturally named after his Chinese zodiac sign. Lóng is the Chinese for dragon. Intending on making his son physically fit, Ma Yajun insisted Ma Long take up Table Tennis aged five. Ma Long then entered into the Liaoning Provincial Sports School six years later where he trained under the guidance of Wang Jun.
Ma became a recognisable name on the Table Tennis circuit from a young age, taking four titles at the 2004 World Junior Championships including the Men’s Singles trophy. However, the usually shy boy struggled with discipline and his stubbornness didn’t go down well with his coaches. In 2005 at a training camp in Xiamen, Li Yi (Ma’s coach) was not happy with the number of mistakes his pupil was making, and so he made Ma repeat the exercises several times. Disappointed with Ma’s response, Li gave him a punishment of running 20 laps.
Despite the problems in 2005, Ma was given a chance to prove himself to his country the very next year at the World Team Championships in Bremen. China defended its title, making Ma Long the youngest world champion (18) in the history of the sport at the time.
Singles Career Comes to Fruition
2007 was the year that Ma Long would announce his presence on the world stage, picking up his first Men’s Singles crown at the Kuwait and German Opens with just a matter of months between the two victories. But just as things began to look good for Ma, he made an earlier exit than expected at the 2007 World Championships (Zagreb) losing out to Korea Republic’s Joo Saehyuk in the last 16.
After a mixed year of performances, Ma needed to find consistency in his play and it didn’t take him long to reach that goal. In 2008 Ma won the singles title at the Asian Cup before adding the ITTF Grand Finals gold to his name where he overcame Wang Hao 4-0 in the final.
Ma continued to get better and better over the next five years, winning World Tour events, Asian Championships and the Men’s World Cup in 2012. However, he was left out of China’s lineup for the Men’s Singles competition for the 2012 Olympic Games due to a temporary dip in form leading up to the games, despite the fact that in 2011 Ma had gone 40 singles matches unbeaten.
March 2015 saw Ma Long become the world number one, a position he has kept right up until the present day; in the same year he won the World Championships, World Cup and ITTF Grand Finals.
Grand Slam Champion
The Riocentro – Pavilion 3 played host to the Table Tennis tournament at Rio 2016, and was the venue where Ma Long would put his name into the history books for all the right reasons. His 4-0 victory over Zhang Jike in the Men’s Singles gold medal match made Ma Long a Grand Slam winner, joining the likes of Zhang Jike and Jan-Ove Waldner.
Ma Long is also highly rated by his fellow competitors. Zhang Jike said that Ma’s skills are, “better than mine” and Nigerian player Quadri Aruna was quoted as saying, “everything is just perfect about Ma Long”.
Other honours that Ma Long holds include: most ITTF World Tour singles golds of any Chinese male player (22), 2015 ITTF Male Star Player, and first male player to simultaneously hold the World Championship, World Cup, Olympic and Grand Finals singles titles.
Next up for Ma is the Men’s Team event at Rio 2016 which will be brought to an end on August 17th, with the 2016 Men’s World Cup taking place in October. The question is, can anyone stop Ma Long from continuing his world dominance in Table Tennis?