by Wade Townsend
In 2017 Ding Ning and Ma Long hopped on a plane to Düsseldorf, looking to defend their world singles titles from 2015.
Winning once is in itself a statistical anomaly. Most athletes won’t stand on top the podium. That’s sport. Winning twice? Well once you’ve done it once surely it’s easier the second time?
When it came to the clutch moments, Ma Long didn’t disappoint. The no.1 seed made it safely through to the final, and what happened next will be remembered for years to come.
Simply put, Ma Long and Fan Zhendong put on one of the greatest table tennis shows in history. It was a gladiatorial match worthy of both plebs and Caesar. The tiny table captivated 8,000 table tennis fans who held their collective breath.
Perhaps the closest final in recent memory, the match went all the way to 10-10 in the seventh game. The next two points went to Ma Long and he left his opponent drench in both sweat and tears.
“This is the definitely the craziest match I have ever played and ever will play. I think I have never played like this before.” Ma Long
After the match Ma Long had two people to thank. First Liu Guoliang for his guidance and secondly Zhang Jike for serving as a role model. He obviously had ben taking careful notes as he perfrectly emulated Zhang’s performance of back to back world titles. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But can he one-up his hero and go three in a row?
Meanwhile for Ding Ning, there was a restless nervousness over her during the whole event. It came to a head when she unwittingly thought her quarterfinal match against Miu Hirano was over a point too soon. She prematurely celebrated the victory and went to shake the umpire’s hand. Even the steely-eyed Ding had to break her on court persona and let a smile and laugh slip through at her blunder.
That laugh could have been the moment that let her finally relax in Germany and complete her mission. In the final she took down her teammate Zhu Yuling and clinched the gold for back to back world titles, and her third in total.
Ding Ning has firmly cemented herself in the pantheon of all-time greats. Fans will now be discussing whether she is on her way to becoming the greatest female table tennis player of the modern era. Ding has an Olympic gold and has now been crowned World Champion three times. Don’t wait out for any self declaration’s of being the GOAT, but others certainly have good reason to start whispering that title under their breath.
Can she possibly keep going and add more titles to her haul? There are so many challengers knocking on the door. In 2018 we may get the answer
Check out the full year in review below and relive some of the best moments from table tennis in 2017.