by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Winning in the Portuguese capital city meant that he surpassed the record of his now retired compatriot, Wang Liqin; the three times winner of the Men’s Singles title at the World Championships also won the ITTF Grand Finals title three times.
He won in 1998 in Paris, the following year in Kobe and in 2004 in Beijing; the nearest challenger in terms of titles to Ma Long who is competing in Doha, is Japan’s Jun Mizutani and national team colleague Xu Xin.
Against Xu Xin, Ma Long has a debt to pay. Xu Xin won in Hangzhou in 2012 beating teammate Wang Hao in the final prior to retaining the title in Dubai in January 2014; on that occasion, he accounted for Ma Long in the title deciding match.
Meanwhile, Jun Mizutani won in Seoul in 2010 and in Bangkok in 2014.
Three former ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles Grand Finals winners on duty and there are two more, who by winning etched a special place in the history books.
In 1997 in Hong Kong, Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus beat Wang Liqin in the final; it was the first ever tournament in which the “Time Out” rule was used.
A landmark event, for Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan it was a landmark win; he succeeded in 2002 in Stockholm, the significance was that he won before he ever won a Men’s Singles title on the ITTF World Tour.
Now that is a record that can be matched in Doha; compatriot Chen Chien-An has never won an ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles title, neither has Hong Kong’s Tang Peng.
Could either emulate Chuang Chih-Yuan and win for the first time? Both Chen Chien-An and Tang Peng are fine players but it would a massive surprise.
However, is there one player who has ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles titles to his credit who may topple Ma Long in Doha to win the Grand Finals title for the first time?
He can mightily close in Lisbon and he been in good form in the current Chinese Super League; maybe worth putting a few Qatari riyals on Fan Zhendong?