by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
In the Copper Box Arena, Ding Ning lines up alongside Chen Xingtong, Liu Shiwen, Wang Manyu and Zhu Yuling; for Ma Long and Xu Xin, the supporting cast is Fan Zhendong, Lin Gaoyuan and Yu Ziyang.
The records of all three are unblemished; simply they have never lost but perhaps Ma Long and Ding Ning have different feelings as they return to London?
Notably in the ExCeL Exhibition Centre, not too far distant from the Copper Box Arena, in November 2011, Ma Long beat Zhang Jike in the final of the Men’s Singles event and when interviewed after the contest issued one of the world’s great understatements.
“We all know that Zhang Jike is very strong from the backhand but my forehand’s not too bad.” Ma Long
Later for Ma Long it was to be Men’s Team gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games, an event which perhaps was a watershed in his career; he did not play in the Men’s Singles event, that honour was bestowed on Wang Hao and Zhang Jike but ever since that date he has been the player who leads the team, not completes the team.
Furthermore, Ma Long has a distinct liking for England, in 2009 he won the Men’s Singles title at the ITTF World Tour English Open in Sheffield; in 2012 the Liebherr Men’s World Cup in Liverpool.
Somewhat conversely for Ding Ning, she was beaten in the final of the Women’s Singles event at the 2011 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals by colleague Liu Shiwen, before suffering the same fate in the Women’s Singles gold medal match at the London 2012 Olympic Games when losing to Li Xiaoxia, likewise from China.
However, later in the tournament there was to be gold; she joined forces with Guo Yue and Li Xiaoxia to win the Women’s Team competition.
The nearest challenger to Ding Ning is her now retired colleague, Li Xiaoxia; she won five times between 2007 in Magdeburg and 2013 in Guangzhou; that is the number Liu Shiwen can match in London. She made her debut in 2009 but did not play in 2011 in Magdeburg; thus the appearance in England’s capital city will be her fifth adventure.
Presently, Liu Shiwen stands level in terms of wins with colleague Guo Yue; she won on four consecutive occasions starting in 2007 in Magdeburg. Meanwhile, for Zhu Yuling it will be her second appearance in the competition, for Chen Xingtong and Wang Manyu it is their debut.
Meanwhile, for the men, the nearest in terms of wins to Ma Long and Xu Xin are colleagues Wang Hao and Zhang Jike who each appeared in the World Team Cup on four occasions; Wang Hao between 2007 in Magdeburg and 2013 in Guangzhou; for Zhang Jike, he made his debut in 2009 in Linz, his most recent appearance 2015 in Dubai.
Notably for Fan Zhendong it is only his second appearance in the competition, his only previous excursion being Dubai three years ago; both Lin Gaoyuan and Yu Ziyang are on debut.