by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
An impressive array of talent but of the quartet, Ma Long is the odd one out.
He has won gold at the Olympic Games, recently at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships he retained his Men’s Singles title; likewise he has succeeded at the Men’s World Cup and at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals. Also he has claimed no less than 23 Men’s Singles titles on the ITTF World Tour and moves ever nearer the record of 26 owned by Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus.
However, he has never enjoyed the same level of success at an ITTF World Tour tournament in Japan. He has never won the Men’s Singles title and there have been plenty of opportunities; Japan has been a member of the ITTF World Tour ever since 1996, the first year of the concept.
The nearest for Ma Long was in 2007 in Chiba; on that occasion he reached the final only to be beaten by compatriot, Wang Hao.
Conversely, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin and Jun Mizutani have all won the Men’s Singles title. Jun Mizutani won in 2012 when beating Korea’s Oh Sangeun in the final. Xu Xin succeeded in 2015, defeating the host nation’s Maharu Yoshimura, before last year in Tokyo being beaten in the final by Fan Zhendong.
Creditable performances but all have to stand in line behind Germany’s Timo Boll, the no.6 seed in Tokyo one place adrift of Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting; he has won the title three times more than any other player. In fact there is only one other who has won the title on more than one occasion.
China’s Wang Liqin emerged successful in 2000 beating colleague Ma Lin in the final before regaining the title in 2006 at the final expense of Wang Hao.
Meanwhile in 2003, Timo Boll accounted for Korea’s Oh Sangeun in the title decider, prior to 2005 overcoming the latter’s colleague Ryu Seungmin to claim the top prize. Later in 2010 he returned to douse the hopes of the host nation. In the final he beat Jun Mizutani.
The runner up in 2010, it was also the lot of Jun Mizutani one year later when beaten by compatriot, Seiya Kishikawa.
Likewise, Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan, the no.8 seed in Tokyo one place behind China’s Fang Bo, has been twice the runner up. In 2002 he was beaten in the final by Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece, two years later by Chen Qi, like Fang Bo from China.
Eyes focus on Ma Long and Fan Zhendong for a repeat of the Liebherr 2017 World Championships Men’s Singles final but are the fates of sport in their favour?
Ma Long has never won the Men’s Singles title and no player has ever won in consecutive years.