by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
A tough task for Austria confronting what many would regard as the best three players on planet earth; made even tougher for the European outfit who no doubt would have preferred to have played later in the day.
The previous evening they had been involved in an exhausting full distance five match contest against Portugal, an engagement that had finished when the clock struck 11.00pm.,
Now 37 years old, Robert Gardos is a seasoned campaigner and is no stranger to facing Chinese adversaries; last year at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Austria Open he overcame Liang Jingkun.
Furthermore, he has twice come close to beating Zhang Jike. He extended Zhang Jike the full distance at the 2014 World Team Championships in Tokyo and more recently in the second round of the Men’s Singles competition at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf.
He gave Ma Long a torrid time in the opening encounter and did what no player has achieved since Moscow in 2010; on that occasion in the opening match of the final, Ma Long was beaten in five games by Timo Boll in the contest against Germany, since that date he has never lost a single game, let alone a match in the World Team Championships.
Eventually, Ma Long emerged successful in five games (11-13, 11-5, 9-11, 11-7, 11-3),
“It’s normal to lose a game, it’s nothing unusual; maybe in previous World Team Championships I’ve been lucky to win three-nil. Robert Gardos is familiar with Chinese players, we know him very well, he plays at very fast past, he’s a difficult opponent.” Ma Long
Success for Ma Long, the early lead, Xu Xin built on that lead. The long raking forehand in full flow, Xu Xin overpowered Stefan Fegerl who time and again was reduced to the passive role,
A straight games win was the order of the day (11-6, 11-5, 11-4); China was now totally in command. Fan Zhendong ended matters in a manner just as emphatic as that displayed by Xu Xin; he beat Daniel Habesohn in three straight games (11-8, 11-8, 11-4).
China now meets the winners of the contest between England and Sweden.