by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Crowned World champions in Rotterdam in 2011, the ideal partnership, the right handed shake-hands grip allied with a left handed pen-holder Ma Long and Xu Xin was the partnership selected by Liu Guozheng, the Chinese national coach.
A formidable pair, also you can add to the equation that if a ranking list of powerful forehands was inaugurated, they would head the list.
Great credit to Koki Niwa and Jin Ueda; they never flinched in their task, they contributed immensely to a contest which enthralled the full to capacity auditorium, the quality of the rallies breath-taking.
The first two games secured, trailing 5-6 in the third, Yosuke Kurashima, the Japanese national coach, called “Time Out”; the decision was understandable but it was not to reap great dividends. Ma Long and Xin Xin were not to be denied; each game close but each game in favour of China (11-8, 11-9, 11-7).
“Maybe I’m a good doubles play but so are my partners!” Xu Xin
Success for Ma Long and Xu Xin was followed by success for Fan Zhendong against Tomokazu Harimoto. Safe, solid and secure; the unforced errors minimal, the fact that Fan Zhendong is the master of keeping the ball on the table maintained the pressure on Tomokazu Harimoto, the effect was that in his enthusiasm to seize the advantage the Japanese teenager made mistakes.
Trailing 5-6 in the third game, Yosuke Kurashima called “Time Out”. He had little choice, credit to the 14 year old; he fought for every point and gave his more senior adversary food for thought. At 8-all it was parity but for Tomokazu Harimoto there was to be no further success, the next three points went to Fan Zhendong (11-7, 11-8, 11-8); China moved one step closed their goal.
“It is the first time that I have played Tomokazu, I prepared thoroughly and focused on just playing one point at a time. Before, every match, in the Chinese team we always prepare and study videos.” Fan Zhendong
China was now in command, next into the arena came the captain, Ma Long; ten previous contests against Koki Niwa, nine in his favour, the only defeat being at the Asian Qualification tournament for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Once in England’s capital city, there was no such repeat but Ma Long did experience problems.
After winning the opening game, he lost the second as Koki Niwa raised his levelled and thrilled the crowd; conversely Ma Long made uncharacteristic errors. Matters level, Ma Long sought to seize the initiative at the earliest opportunity as the third game started but he could not establish a clear advantage; not until 5-all. He won the next two points, then he was in overdrive; without a further point being surrendered he captured the game.
Now the tide had turned, in the fourth game Ma Long went ahead 5-3, Koki Niwa called “Time Out” but there was no stopping Ma Long, he was in the fast lane, a four games win was secured (11-8, 3-11, 11-5, 11-3) the title, for the ninth time, belonged to China.
“It is quite normal to lose a game, in the second game Koki Niwa played very well; I kept my focus and came through; now I need to get some sleep, last night in the hotel there was a fire alarm. Now I look forward to the next big match.” Ma Long
Success for China, for the sixth time Ma Long and Xu Xin were members of the winning team; both made their debuts in the competition in 2009 in Linz and have been present ever since that date.
Notably, Ma Long did not play in the 2015 final in Dubai; for Fan Zhendong it was his second consecutive appearance, his second final.