by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Simply look at his record since he won the Boys’ Singles title at the 2012 World Junior Championships in the Indian city of Hyderabad when only 15 years old; nobody on duty in Budapest can compare.
In fact if you extended that argument worldwide, you would only need the fingers of one hand to list those who can match his progress and achievements. Maybe you would name Ma Long and Zhang Jike but then you would start arguing.
It is the incredible level of consistency that had made Fan Zhendong a player of world class; table tennis is about putting one more ball on the table than your opponent, there is no-one better than Fan Zhendong.
Consistency is a hallmark of Chinese play, it has always been a feature but more in evidence since Kong Linghui won the Men’s Singles title at the 1995 World Championships; right hand shake-hands grip he broke the mould, the previous winners from 1959 in the guise of Rong Guotan to 1987 when Jiang Jialiang succeeded had all been pen-holders.
Later came Wang Liqin, three times Men’s Singles World Champion, the master counter top spin artist; Fan Zhendong is the latest of the ilk.
Equally, is that not the reason why the most venerable of all on duty at the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open, 41 year old Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, remains one of the most potent forces on the international scene.
Present in 1996, the very first year of the ITTF World Tour, the style is elegant but it is the high level of consistency that has been the basis of his record 27 Men’s Singles titles plus one at the Grand Finals.
Now, who is set the follow? Who will be the next to reach the highest level because their play is more consistent than any of their adversaries?
My vote goes to China’s Niu Guankai, who celebrates his 16th birthday on Sunday 28th January; at the recent 2017 World Junior Championships in Riva del Garda he was beaten at the semi-final stage of the Boys’ Singles event by Sweden’s Truls Moregard.
Defeat but watch Niu Guankai play, the basis of his play is as solid as the foundations of the Great Wall of China; in three years’ time when physically stronger, if not before, evidence suggests he will be a key player in China’s Men’s Team. Moreover, when voting takes place later this year for the “Breakthrough Player of the Year” at the ITTF Star Awards Evening, if given the opportunities, he will be the strongest candidate.
In Budapest, Niu Guankai will play in the qualification event; Vladimir Samsonov, Fan Zhendong, now Niu Guankai, masters of consistency.