by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
At the time the accepted Chinese first team was Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin; that selection had been fully justified in the Men’s Team event one year earlier; at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games they had won gold.
Now could the three bright young men prove to Liu Guoliang, the national coach, that they were worthy of consideration for Liebherr 2010 World Team Championships and looking further into the crystal ball, the Olympic Games of 2012 London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
The test was the final against Korea in Linz; graduation was completed. Zhang Jike set the tone, he tore into Oh Sangeun; it was one-way traffic; with the loss of just one game Ma Long followed suit, he overpowered Joo Saehyuk. It was a pertinent contest and laid gremlins to rest; at the Liebherr 2007 World Championships in Zagreb, Ma Long had suffered the ignominy of being the only Chinese player to lose a singles match against foreign opposition. Only 18 years old at the time, he had tried to blast Joo Saehyuk into neighbouring Slovenia; he came unstuck.
China two-nil ahead, Ma Long and Xu Xin combined to win the doubles against Oh Sangeun and Ryu Seungmin; the outfit that was to win silver in the Men’s Team event at the London 2012 Olympic Games was soundly beaten.
The ensuing successes of Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike speak for themselves; both Ma Long and Xu Xin are on duty in London, there is no Zhang Jike but there is Fan Zhendong. In recent years he has proved himself; winner of the Liebherr 2016 Men’s World Cup title, successful at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, he has joined the super group.
It is the two players who complete the Chinese Men’s Team at the 2018 ITTF World Team Cup who have questions to answer; just as Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike had to prove themselves in 2009, so nine year laters do Lin Gaoyuan and Yu Ziyang.
In 2014 when Yu Ziyang won Men’s Singles title at the GAC Group Japan Open beating Japan’s Jun Mizutani in the final, then later in the year was crowned World Junior champion in Shanghai, did we not expect a host of titles to follow?
It did not happen. Notably earlier this year at the Seamaster 2018 Hungarian Open, he did not advance beyond the Men’s Singles group qualification stage.
Equally, after winning the Men’s Singles title at the 2017 Asian Cup and then succeeding at Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Austrian Open, did we not think that Lin Gaoyuan had resigned to history the defeat against Xu Xin earlier in the year at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships when he surrendered a string of match points?
Not so, at the Liebherr 2017 Men’s World Cup he suffered the same disaster when facing Germany’s Timo Boll.
A New Year, a new dawn, if the opportunities and coach Liu Guozheng, who as player never competed in the World Team Cup, selects Lin Gaoyuan and Yu Ziyang, can they respond to the challenge? Can they focus on next match and lay history to rest? Can they emulate their colleagues? Can London be a springboard to greater success?
Nine years ago Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike did just that; they looked forward, the rest as they say is history.