by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Ma Long will join forces with the host nation’s Timo Boll in the Men’s Doubles event; the quest to retain the Men’s Singles title commences on Wednesday 31st May.
On home soil in Suzhou Ma Long acclimatised quickly; now with a six hour time difference, arguably the task of adapting is more difficult but of course it is a situation which is not unusual for world number one.
“There’s no jetlag for me. It’s my second training session at the competition halls, so I’m adapting well, it all feels alright to me. The competition venue is similar to the venue in Suzhou in 2015; it seems to be common lately for big competitions. It was the same in Rio 2016 Olympic Games; maybe it’s more environmentally friendly as the structures can be reused.” Ma Long
Nothing unusual for Ma Long but there is one notable difference; prior to Suzhou, he had been beaten in three consecutive World Championships semi-finals by colleague Wang Hao, he had a point to prove.
Now, since that time, he has proved himself, Olympic champion, Men’s World Cup winner and supreme at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals.
I think “defending champion” is just a saying; it doesn’t give me any advantage in the competition. Many other players such as my teammates Xu Xin, Fan Zhendong and Zhang Jike all have the chance to fight for the title. It all depends on the mind-set in the match, if you think too much about coming into the competition as the defending champion it becomes more of a pressure. The more important thing is still to play the tournament match by match.” Ma Long
Well prepared and the reason for that situation is that undoubtedly Liu Guoliang, the head coach, has left no stone unturned.
“The hall is big and it’s hard to hear the ball but it’s the same for everyone and the conditions for everyone are equal. At this point, the focus for us is to adapt and not trying to change any aspects of the competition environment. I think in this aspect, our team has a better mind-set, we are strong in our skills and we have confidence in ourselves. As the head coach, I need to observe both the men and women’s teams. Especially at this initial stage, I have to give some instructions on details and critical points.” Liu Guoliang
In World Championships and other major events, titles are won and lost by minimal margins; attention to detail is essential.
“Everyone’s very focused in this first practice in the main competition hall. Zhang Jike and Fan Zhendong focusing on skills training, while Ma Long and Xu XIn focusing on training their first three strokes. There’s many left handed top players competing here at the World Championships, including Jun Mizutani and Timo Boll, they are all our main competitors, I think it’s important for me to get my players well prepared, especially with the little details in their strategies and tactics. This session is particularly beneficial for Xu Xin, in his serves and in his handling of the details.” Liu Guoliang
Clearly the men are ready for action; it is the same for the women; all players travelling to Luxembourg to prepare over a week ago.
“The Women’s team training has also progressed well too. Ding Ning has been more enthusiastic here in her training as compared to the training sessions in Luxembourg. She’s also more proactive here, it’s the same for Liu Shiwen, they are getting better with the speed, as compared to Luxembourg, the players are definitely more focus.” Liu Guoliang
A clear message, for the rest of the world; a daunting task awaits.