by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
It will be the sixth time that Ma Long has competed in the prestigious annual tournament first held in 1980 in Hong Kong when Guo Yuehua, also from China, secured the top prize in the inaugural event.
Ma Long was the bronze medallist in 2008 when the tournament was last staged in Liège, as well as the following year in Moscow. In the former, he finished behind colleague Wang Hao and Germany’s Timo Boll, in the latter the top two places were reserved by Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and Chen Qi, also from China.
Notably in 2012 in Liverpool, after losing to Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chih-Yuan in the group stage, he progressed to win the title overcoming Timo Boll in the title deciding contest.
Likewise, in 2014 in Düsseldorf and the following year in Halmstad, he reached the final. In all Chinese title deciders, in the former, memorably he lost to Zhang Jike; in the latter, he beat Fan Zhendong.
One year later when he won gold in the Men’s Singles event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, it meant that he owned the three major titles the sport has to offer at the same time and thus matched Zhang Jike as the only player to have achieved the feat.
At the GAC Group 2011 World Championships in Rotterdam Zhang Jike secured the Men’s Singles title, later in the year in Paris he won the Liebherr Men’s World Cup before at the London 2012 Olympic Games capturing the Men’s Singles gold to complete the triumvirate.
Notably, Chinese national team colleagues Kong Linghui and Liu Guoliang in addition to Sweden’s Jan-Ove Waldner have won all three titles but none of the illustrious trio held all at the same time.
Last year Ma Long did not compete when the tournament was held in Saarbrucken; in Halmstad two years ago the mission was achieved, it was the same some 14 months ago in Rio de Janeiro, now for Ma Long will it be the same in Liège? The owner of the big three titles, all at the same time.
World champion: Ma Long (China)
Continental Cup (Winners): Quadri Aruna (Nigeria), Lin Gaoyuan (China), Gustavo Tsuboi (Brazil), Kanak Jha (United States), David Powell (Australia), Dimitrij Ovtcharov (Germany)
Continental Cup (Asia & Europe 2nd & 3rd Places): Lee Sangsu (Korea), Chen Chien-An (Chinese Taipei), Alexander Shibaev (Russia), Simon Gauzy (France)
Continental Cup (World Ranking): Jun Mizutani (Japan), Kou Lei (Ukraine), Timo Boll (Germany), Omar Assar (Egypt), Jeong Sangeun (Korea), Chuang Chih-Yuan (Chinese Taipei), Koki Niwa (Japan)
Host Nation: Cédric Nuytinck (Belgium)
Wild Card: Marcos Freitas (Portugal)