by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
A devastating forehand that repeats, repeats and repeats; the path of the stroke differing by millimetres if differing at all; it is the trademark of Ma Long. However, watch his backhand, name any player with a better backhand and I doubt you need the fingers of one hand.
Against Xu Xin, a player with an equally devastating forehand, withstanding a barrage of explosive forehands and being able to turn to your advantage is of paramount importance.
Control and then the forehand in motion, Ma Long secured the first two games; in the third Xu Xin, the master of losing the first two games and then recovering, as he had done against colleague Lin Gaoyuan, mounted a major challenge. He led 9-8 but was not able to take advantage of the situation.
Xu Xin had a mountain to climb; Ma Long won the first three points of the fourth game; Xu Xin called “Time Out” but Ma Long was in the express lane, he was moving well and the legendary forehand was in top gear.
He went ahead 5-0, Xu Xin reduced the arrears to 6-2; Ma Long elected for a break. It was more precautionary that tactical. Simply the task was to bring mind, body and soul together.
A flashing forehand from the Xu Xin secured the next point but in his efforts to assert authority Xu Xin made mistakes and in the rallies nothing was to pass Ma Long; the determination to retain the precious title was evident.
Ma Long did not surrender another point; in the rallies that ensued he was quite simply breathtaking; a place in the final was booked, a simply stunning performance.