by Kabir Nagpal
He possesses 16,250 points taking him beyond that of Xu Xin’s 16,160 points.
Let the Fan spin!
Previously Fan Zhendong had occupied the no.1 position in the men’s world rankings issued for 15 consecutive editions – since March 2018.
However, a month later in July 2019, Xu Xin’s rise to the top brought an end to Fan’s reign. Fan dropped to third place.
It is highly intriguing to note the journey the 22-year-old has had and those around him over the past few months. Over the intervening period, after gaining the World no.1 position, Xu went on to confirm his supremacy by winning three consecutive gold medals at this year’s Japan, Korea and Australian Opens.
Meanwhile, Fan had several close run-ins during this time but proved unable to convert any of them. The semi-final exit in Hungary and then again in Japan made him contemplate his personal decisions at the table, especially because he was still winning consistently across the doubles – ironically with Xu Xin by his side in Japan, Korea and Sweden.
Nothing could keep Fan away from the top for too long.
The return (to summit) journey
Since winning the 2019 ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup in early April, Fan had endured a tough couple of months and was without a trophy on this year’s ITTF World Tour until last month.
However, his persistence and perseverance to reach the latter stages of every competition eventually paid off. At the 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum German Open in Bremen, Fan gained the mother of all opportunities to set things right when he faced Xu Xin in the final.
Previously, at the semi-final stage Xu had overcome Korea Republic’s Jeoung Youngsik in five games (11-8, 8-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-6) while Fan accounted for compatriot Liang Jingkun in a stunning comeback win (3-11, 11-8, 11-5, 4-11, 4-11, 11-6, 11-4).
All that remained was the top two seeds to clash and well, the fireworks reigned. After a match which spun every which way, Fan Zhendong returned to winning ways by beating Xu Xin (5-11, 11-8, 14-12, 11-7, 11-7) to claim his 12th ITTF World Tour men’s singles title – but his first appearance in such a final since he won in November 2018.
“This is an enormously important victory for me. I am overjoyed to have won against Xu Xin. Since we know each other so well it’s really hard for me to surprise him with anything. I never let up, always put pressure on him until the last rally. I had a lot of fun here, especially with this great crowd.” Fan Zhendong
It meant the German Open was Fan’s first singles’ title on the 2019 World Tour, his last victory tracing back to the 2018 Swedish Open. It put into perspective the manner with which Fan’s confidence had been shaken over the past year and how that clearly reflected in his play. What is heartening to see is how none of that has changed his mental strength and steel to overcome his challenges and challengers alike.
Speaking of which, the immediate challenges for Fan Zhendong will now be the ZEN-NOH 2019 ITTF Team World Cup with Team China, the 2019 ITTF Men’s World Cup and the 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum Austrian Open – all three happening within weeks of one another in November.
Perhaps this is the best time for Fan to be back at the summit – and announce his intentions to stay where he belongs.