by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Absence means that the Men’s Singles title at the Grand Finals continues to remain elusive.
Gold medallist at the Olympic Games, World Champion and winner of the World Cup, on his three appearances in the Grand Finals always Zhang Jike has fallen short.
The reason for the disappointments is his compatriot Ma Long; always he has lost to Ma Long in in his endeavours to secure the top prize. On his first appearance in January 2010 in Macao, he was beaten by Ma Long at the semi-final stage, in London in November 2011, it was in the final, last December in Lisbon; once again it was in the penultimate round.
Notably, it is also a title which also eluded Liu Guoliang, the man who would not doubt have sat courtside as the coach of Zhang Jike in Doha. Likewise, he struck gold at the Olympic Games, the World Championships and in the Men’s World.
Thus whatever happens in Doha, Kong Linghui and Ma Long will remain the only players to have won the three major global titles and the Grand Finals.
Equally, is there now a doubt that best days of Zhang Jike are over? He is only 28 years old but one wonders if the rigours of international competition and the level of expectancy are starting to tell?
A member of the winning team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the silver medallist in the Men’s Singles event was a quite outstanding achievement, for most mortals it would be the very pinnacle of their careers but when you are the defending champion, the goal had not been achieved.
Furthermore, for whatever reason, Zhang Jike has not competed in the current Chinese Super League, an event in which surely the crowds would throng to see the mercurial character in action. One begins to wonder if we will see him at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Japan’s Koki Niwa is the first reserve Seamaster Qatar 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.