by Wade Townsend
Fans have been calling the Marvellous 12 one of the toughest and most spectacular tournaments they’ve witnessed, and day four’s action kept the hype alive.
The biggest matchup of the day in Shenzhen didn’t disappoint. When the world number one and two stepped out on to the court the fans hoped for a battle of the titans, and it’s exactly what they got.
Ma Long and Fan Zhendong got off to an even start, with the score level at 6-6 in the first game. But Fan made a strong run of points and with Ma missing two forehands in row from the middle of the table the young contender took the first game 11-6.
But a little coaching goes a long way and with the help of Qing Zhijian, Ma moved up a gear and took a 9-1 lead in the second game. Yet in perhaps a crucial series of points Fan was able to regain some momentum, only going down 11-5.
The pair were point for point in the deciding game until Ma broke ahead 9-7 and then 10-8. It was two match points, and he was to have another at 11-10, but it wasn’t enough.
Fan was able to make the important pivot forehand or the big backhand down the line, while Ma was more conservative in the backhand half. Fan Zhendong took the match 14-12 in the third.
Ma Long was disappointed with the final result but not his play. It was certainly one the highest level matches Shenzhen had witnessed so far.
“It’s a pity that I got three match points but didn’t win the whole match. But this is just the competition. Fan Zhendong played really well today. Both of us have given the fans a high level performance.” Ma Long
While only ranked one spot below his opponent, the win was an impressive hurdle to overcome for Fan.
“I made a lot of preparations before the match and I adjusted my mindset quiet well. Frankly speaking, many players think that beating Ma Long is a recognisable achievement in itself. I attacked very firmly in the last few points.” Fan Zhendong
With Zhang Jike out of the picture it is Lin Gaoyan who has stepped up to fill the absent spot in the Big Four. It was yesterday’s 2-1 win against Xu Xin that cemented his place in the top four on the ladder.
Surprisingly 2015 World Championships silver medalist Fang Bo is currently bottom of the table with only one win to his name. Will he get the chance to defend his place in the final from two years ago?
In the women’s draw the biggest upset of the day came from Mu Zi. With a tough day four ahead of her, up against Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, Mu was able to finish the evening with one win and one loss, taking down Ding 2-1 and only going down to Liu 1-2.
For Ding Ning however the loss was not completely unexpected.
“It’s normal. Usually it’s fifty-fifty when Mu Zi and I play. She is relatively strong and fatal. Today my overall performance is weaker. I didn’t find a good way to break through, so it’s normal that I losed. This kind of strong-against-strong match is what I want and what I need right now. I learned a lot from the match.” Ding Ning
With seven wins and only one loss, Ding Ning is still well placed to finish top of the table, and it may just come down to a head to head matchup with Liu Shiwen.
But who would bet against Liu Shiwen? So far she has played the perfect tournament; eight wins without a single loss.