by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
The proof of the pudding is in the eating; the proof of the player is winning!
Internationally we first set eyes on Ma Long when he was 15 years old; he reached the quarter-finals of the Boys’ Singles event at the first ever World Junior Championships staged in 2003 in the Chilean capital city of Santiago.
The following year in Kobe he won the title but once in the senior team, it seemed there were some questions to be addressed?
At three consecutive World Championships, starting in 2009 in Yokohama, then two years later in Rotterdam and once more in 2013 in Paris, he was beaten at the semi-final stage of the Men’s Singles event by colleague Wang Hao. Furthermore, he was beaten relatively comfortably, they were not memorable matches.
Speed the factor that caught the eye, Lin Gaoyuan came to our attention as a 14 year old when he reached the semi-final stage of the Boys’ Singles event at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Cartagena de Indias. In the next three editions staged in Bratislava, Manama and Hyderabad respectively, he was the runner up.
However, interspersed, he won the Under 21 Men’s Singles title at the KAL Cup 2010 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals but following the loss in Hyderabad in 2012, it was the player against whom his suffered defeat, colleague Fan Zhendong who blossomed, for Lin Gaoyuan it was into the shadows.
Three times the runner up at the World Junior Championships; earlier this year at the Seamaster 2017 Asian Championships he extended Zhang Jike the full five games distance in their quarter-final duel, before at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships, leading 10-5 in the deciding game against teammate Xu Xin, he lost the next seven points to suffer an excruciating defeat.
Exciting contests, played at the speed of light, great to watch but the simple fact was he lost!
Doubts over Lin Gaoyuan but the nomination for the 2017 ITTF-Asian Cup underlined the fact that those responsible within the Chinese ranks had faith in the young man but when matters started in Ahmedabad did doubts not once again surface?
In his very first match, best of five games, facing Japan’s Jun Mizutani he won the first two games but then lost the next three; no questioning the skills of Lin Gaoyuan but quite simply as on prior major occasions he lost.
More questions to be answered but since that reverse, he has found answers; one swallow does not make a summer, one win does not make a true champion but it provides a spark of inner belief. Since that defeat, whatever Lin Gaoyuan has touched has turned to gold. He progressed to win in Ahmedabad, notably beating Fan Zhendong in the final, before emerging successful at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Hybiome Austria Open in Linz.
Now, in Liège another opportunity arises for Lin Gaoyuan to prove himself a winner and gain the trust of those charged with the responsibility of selection. In 2016 the chosen team was for both the Perfect World Championships and Olympic Games was Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike with Fan Zhendong waiting in the wings.
A podium finish in Liège and will Lin Gaoyuan have proved himself worthy of selection for the 2018 World Championships in Halmstad?
Also, let us not forget that Lin Gaoyuan is a mere 22 years old, at the Liebherr 2017 Men’s World Cup, of the 20 players in action only 17 year old Kanak Jha is younger.
In 2015, when Ma Long proved himself beyond doubt, he was 27 years of age; Lin Gaoyuan has time on his side.