by Ian Marshall, Editor
Guided by national coach, Qin Zhijian, perhaps Ma Long did not pass with flying colours but he passed and that is the main thing from the Chinese perspective.
One remembers his second match in the men’s singles event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he lost the opening two games against Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik, before winning the next four and eventually securing gold.
Perhaps in Rio de Janeiro, there was the sense of occasion, there is no event in the table tennis world bigger than the Olympic Games; equally in Doha there was the same sense but in a different manner, after over six months of hibernation, how would the master react? No player is a robot that can suddenly turn the gears into overdrive, although one does wonder about the forehand of Ma Long when that stroke is in repetitive synchronized motion, hours of practice and preparation but they do not substitute for the rigours of match play.
Ma Long passed the test and in the first round of the men’s singles event, in a very different situation, so did his colleague, Lin Gaoyuan, the no.2 seed; if there was one player I would suggest that none of 16 seeds wanted to face in the first round, it was the in-form Croatian, Tomislav Pucar. Lin Gaoyuan drew the short straw.
Lin Gaoyuan has experienced disasters in close contests; notably when possessing a healthy six points lead in the seventh game against colleague Xu Xin at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships and losing Later in the same year, in a similar situation when facing Germany’s Timo Boll at the Liebherr Men’s World Cup.
Against Tomislav Pucar, Lin Gaoyuan prevailed by the very narrowest of margins (7-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-6, 7-11, 11-5, 11-9) but he won and succeeded in a tense situation where previously he had fallen; like Ma Long, it was not a win with flying colours but it was a win.
Now the fact you win when tested and don’t steam to victory with all cylinders firing, could that be a blessing in disguise? Could that be exactly what the doctor ordered?
Could that be the spur to great things in Doha and the spark for success in Budapest? It could just be the injection of confidence each needs.