by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
It was one of the most remarkable performances ever in the history of the ITTF World Tour, the European duo having never been previously been partners; their history was level zero; they could not remotely compare with the Chinese duo.
In fact, it is very difficult to think of a bigger upset. Ma Long and Xu Xin, eight ITTF World Tour Men’s Doubles title to their name as a partnership, crowned World Champions in 2011 in Rotterdam, form the ideal partnership.
Ma Long shake-hands in harness with the left handed pen-hold grip technique of Xu Xin, regarded by many as the best doubles player on planet earth, both with lethal forehands, technically it could not be better.
“It was the first time to confront them. This match was a little tough and I couldn’t play smoothly; their style of play was different.” Ma Long
“We had some problems at the critical points; at match point, our adversaries were more aggressive and bold, which posed a great threat to us. They played decisively. I think they were free of any mental pressure and played many very high level points. We had trouble with receiving service.” Xu Xin
Defeat for Ma Long and Xu Xin, for colleagues Fan Zhendong and Lin Gaoyuan, the no.6 seeds, it was success but hard fought success against a pair who, like Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles, had been required to compete in the qualification tournament.
They beat Korea’s Jang Woojin and Lim Jonghoon, in a contest where the deciding game was as close as that experienced by their compatriots, the veritable knife-edge (11-5, 6-11, 3-11, 11-6, 12-10).
“For us, the first game got off to a good start but we didn’t play well in the second and third games. Our mental state was affected; we were sloppy with our play. We needed to re-organise and reverse the situation. They are in a good state, playing well in both singles and doubles events. The most concern for me was making silly mistakes. I became nervous. We were more familiar with their tactics at the fifth game and they took some risks.” Fan Zhendong
The final will be played on the evening of Sunday 3rd June.