by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
The cry of “jia you”, greeted both players, the Chinese fans in the hall with seemingly a slight bias in favour of Fan Zhendong but is that not human nature to support the underdog?
Ma Long captured a close first game; it was the same in the second as he made every effort to execute his renowned forehand top spin.
The modern day backhand return of service with forearm vertical, wrist relaxed and racket circumnavigating the ball was in evidence. Notably, also the controlled delicate touched return from the forehand was adopted extensively by Fan Zhendong. Contact before the top of the bounce, keeping the ball short, minimising the chance of the opponent attacking strongly. It was a lesson for young players, to be the very best you need the full range of skills.
Active, the first to attack, quick to seize the initiative; Ma Long established an 8-6 lead in the third game, it was a crucial advantage. He surrendered just one point, a three games to nil lead was established.
Immediately, perhaps more relaxed, Fan Zhendong secured the fourth game, playing fluently, he captured the fifth; was there to be a quite remarkable recovery?
The answer came quickly and was in the negative. Ma Long secured the first three points of the sixth game, Fan Zhendong elected for “Time Out”. Breath-taking counter top spin play, any weak return of which there were few, answered with severity. Ma Long established a 6-3 advantage.
Attacking quickly over the table at 10-4 he held match point; the point was converted.
Today I think the both of us performed very well. I was very proactive at the start and established a three-nil lead. In the fourth and fifth games, Fan Zhendong changed his strategy, I knew the sixth game was crucial, so I changed my strategy as well. Luckily the change worked well. I’m very happy with the title. It’s my first international event of the year. I won my first title of 2016 in Qatar as well and moved on to win more. I even became the Olympic Champion, so I hope retaining this title in Qatar will be another good start to 2017 for me”, Ma Long
Success for Ma Long meant that he repeated the success of one year ago when in the very same stadium, the splendid Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiyah Arena, he had beaten Fan Zhendong to secure the Qatar title for the second time. Earlier in 2013, he had secured the top prize when overcoming colleague, Yan An, in the title deciding contest.
Additionally, the win for Ma Long means that he is ever closer to record of Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus who owns 26 ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles titles; in what is now 35 such finals, Ma Long has won 23 times.
A second Qatar final for Fan Zhendong and a second defeat; he has not competed in a total of eleven ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles finals; today was only his third defeat in the title decider
Overall, China has secured the top step of the Men’s Singles podium at an ITTF World Tour tournament on 140 occasions; the contest between Ma Long and Fan Zhendong was the 93rd all Chinese such final.