by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Crowned World champions in Rotterdam in 2011, arguably the best doubles partnership on planet earth, if not the best ever, Ma Long and Xu Xin were in no mood for charity; they beat Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker in three straight games (11-2, 11-7, 11-4),
The fact that Liu Guozheng, the Chinese national team coach on duty has Xu Xin within his ranks is a massive bonus; he could have fielded Xu Xin in harness with Fan Zhendong; they are the reigning World champions!
“We prepared well, it’s a long time since we played against England, so it was really important that we were ready.” Xu Xin
China ahead, Fan Zhendong extended the advantage. He accounted for Liam Pitchford but most certainly the Englishman, strong from the backhand, caused the man who some two months ago emerged successful at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Astana, plenty of food for thought.
In both the first and third games Liam Pitchford steamed into a 5-1 lead; in the opening game, he maintained the advantage to set the Copper Box alight; in the third game Fan Zhendong reduced the arrears at 6-5; Marcus Sjöberg, the England coach, called “Time Out”. A wise move but Fan Zhendong was the eventually beneficiary.
Undoubtedly, Liam Pitchford was playing the best table tennis of his life. In the fourth game he led 8-5; again as in the previous game, the master of putting one more ball on the table than your opponent, recovered. He lost just one more point, a four games win was recorded (8-11, 11-3, 11-9, 11-9).
“It is the first time that I have ever played Liam; he’s very good, I was pleased to eventually win. I was down on several occasions; I kept my focus; I must stress Liam played so well.” Fan Zhendong
“I have put in a lot of hard work in training. I knew I could perform well at this level and I am happy with my results in this competition. Against Fan Zhendong, I had chances in the second and third games but he is such a good player. I am happy with the way I played against him. To get a medal in this competition was a bit surprise. It is a good situation for us going into another big event, the Commonwealth Games in Australia.” Liam Pitchford
China now in the ascendancy, Ma Long underlined the reasons why he has won every major honour the sport has to offer; he beat Sam Walker in straight games (11-5, 11-1, 11-2).
“I am very happy to be here in London, I was here for the Olympic Games; I studied videos of Sam so I was prepared. It helped that Fan Zhendong beat Liam Pitchford so I was very relaxed. Now I must rest and then come back to watch the next semi-final later today. We always want to be the best in whatever we are doing and that is what has been keeping us strong as a team. ” Ma Long
Victory for China, a place in the final for the ninth time, seven in a row and six for each of Ma Long and Xu Xin; a second for Fan Zhendong.