by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Similar to many contests that involve players from China either against adversaries from foreign shores or against their own; when one player gains a lead, confidence increases and the player cannot be caught. It was the situation in the opening two games, honours were shared.
However, in the third game, matters were very different. Ma Long went ahead 6-3, surely he would now steam ahead; not so Fan Zhendong levelled at 6-all. Ma Long responded to the mini crisis, he surrendered just one more point to seize the advantage.
Two games to one ahead, Ma Long established a one point lead at 8-7 in the fourth game. Fan Zhendong levelled but the next three points were secured by Ma Long, he held a three games to one lead.
In the fifth game, Ma Long went ahead 3-1, Fan Zhendong called “Time Out”. Ma Long extended the lead to 8-4. At 10-4 he held six match points, the first was saved, not the second, Ma Long was victorious, the elusive title was added to the already extensive collection.
“Of course I’m feeling very happy about this title, my first Japan Open Singles title. I finished second 10 years ago, so it feels great that I finally broke this curse. I’m pleased with my performance today, especially because we just finished the World Championships, and everyone’s tired from all the action.” Ma Long
It was 36th time that Ma Long had appeared in an ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles final, he has now won 24 times; he is just two wins behind Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus who has 26 victories to his name.
Meanwhile, for Fan Zhendong it was his fourth runners up spot in 12 ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles finals; notably now three have been at the hands of Ma Long. He was beaten by Ma Long in the final in Qatar in 2016 and earlier this year in February.
Defeat for Fan Zhendong but he could again take pride as in Düsseldorf; perhaps there was not the same level of drama but the standard of play was simply breathtaking. Fan Zhendong continues to improve, his only problem, is Ma Long improving even faster?