by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
A good start to calm the nerves, it was Fan Zhendong who made the better start; motivating himself vocally, he won the opening game.
Fan Zhendong was the faster out of the blocks, by his standards Ma Long was a trifle passive. However from the start of the second game, there was nothing passive about Ma Long, the exact antithesis. He replied, he accelerated; he captured the second game.
Matters level, just as in the opening game, Fan Zhendong had been the more vocal, in the third it was Ma Long; on the majority of occasions he was the first to seize initiative, his first attacking stroke executed at the earliest opportunity. He established a 7-3 lead; he did not lose another point, he held a one game advantage.
Ma Long was at top speed; on more than one occasion when the point appeared lost, he managed to execute a more than effective return. In the fourth game at 6-4, he elected for “Time Out”; initially the break did not work in his favour, Fan Zhendong levelled at 6-all but he won the next three points and at 10-7 held game point. It was converted; a three-one advantage was established.
The momentum with Ma Long but in the fifth game it was Fan Zhendong who made the better start; he established a 5-1 lead, it was never relinquished, the margin was down to one game,
An advantage established at the start of the game whether Fan Zhendong or Ma Long; whoever held that advantage progressed to win the game.
In the sixth game, vocal as in the first, Fan Zhendong went ahead 4-1: he forced errors from Ma Long, a 9-3 lead was established, Ma Long won the next three points; Fan Zhendong called “Time Out”. The break worked for Fan Zhendong; the pattern of the previous five games was repeated, an early lead and success accrued. A deciding seventh game beckoned.
The crowd captivated, at the change of ends Ma Long led 5-3; neither player gave an inch, Fan Zhendong levelled at 6-all before winning three of the next four points to lead 9-7; Ma Long levelled at 9-all with his services to follow.
He chanced a long service, he won the point; a breath-taking rally, Fan Zhendong levelled. The next point to Ma Long, another chance, converted, Ma Long fell to floor, threw his racket in the air,
In what was surely one of the best Men’s Singles finals ever known, the title was retained; 8,000 table tennis fans, the Messeplatz full to capacity, stood in adulation.
“I am so happy to win, at the same time I am so tired. I hope this match will be remembered by everyone in the history of table tennis; this is the definitely the craziest match I have ever played and will ever play, I think I have never played like this before. I feel very happy to win, feel I was a bit lucky this time, I feel sorry for Fan Zhendong, but the future belongs to him. Mentally I was not certain on how to prepare for the match, so I consulted Liu Guoliang. I thank him for his guidance and tolerance. I would also like to especially thank Zhang Jike because of his achievements, I really look up to him and he is my role model, I have learned a lot from his game.” Ma Long
“We both played at a very high level today, I fought very hard. Maybe when I got the opportunity, I didn’t grab it and made mistakes. I congratulate Ma Long, we both gave a wonderful performance today.” Fan Zhendong
Was it the best ever Men’s Singles final? I leave you to judge but for sure it will live long in the memory of those privileged to be present; most pertinently, it will live long in the memory of Ma Long!