by Ian Marshall, Editor
He won the men’s singles title and thus joined Victor Barna and Zhuang Zedong, the only previous players to have secured the prestigious title on three consecutive occasions.
Ma Long did not start the favourite; he was the no.11 seed. It begged the question, when had the defending champion not been listed amongst the top eight names?
Equally, when did a player outside the top eight names last secure the men’s singles title at a World Championships; the vote goes to Kong Longhui 1995 in Tianjin.
Thus we watched the draw with intent, could there be a possible repeat of the final of two years earlier in Düsseldorf when in seven games Ma Long had beaten Fan Zhendong, a contest which many believed had taken playing standards to a new level. In Budapest, Fan Zhendong was the top seed; the draw made, the possibility of a repeat final did not materialise, they were scheduled for a semi-final clash.
It did not happen; Fan Zhendong was beaten in round four by colleague Liang Jingkun.
Defeat for Fan Zhendong, he never reached the heights of Düsseldorf but can we not draw a parallel with Ma Long? He needed five attempts before he succeeded.
Accepted Kong Longhui won on debut in 1995 but for most it takes time. At the 2007 World Championships in Zagreb, Ma Long suffered the indignity of being the only Chinese player, male or female, to lose a singles match against an opponent from foreign shores.
He tried to blast Korea Republic’s Joo Saehyuk out of the water and came unstuck. On the next three occasions, commencing in 2009 in Yokohama, he was beaten by Wang Hao in the semi-final round, performances below par.
Moreover, he had to watch his contemporary, the player he had lined up alongside at the first ever World Junior Championships in 2003 in Chile, Zhang Jike, become Olympic and World champion.
One wonders, add all those facts together, how much did they fuel the fire of desire?
Responded in style
In 2015 in Suzhou there were questions to be answered just as this year in Budapest but of a rather more pressing nature; Ma Long answered with aplomb. A burden was removed from his shoulders.
Now, to a lesser extent does that scenario apply also to Xu Xin? The fortunes of the draw meant that he was the only member of the Chinese national team in the lower half.
Just as Fan Zhendong had not really lived up to expectations, it was the same for Xu Xin; he was beaten in the third round by Frenchman, Simon Gauzy.
Later in the year both Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin were to enjoy most notable successes but as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games looms ever closer, eyes look towards Ma Long. After disappointments, he proved himself, he is now the player to whom China looks as the stabilizing force. Ma Long in the team adds an extra ingredient, it gives his colleagues a sense of secure, it also releases the degrees of pressure.
Now, the days of Zhang Jike seemingly over, Ma Long is the only current member of his national team to have won the men’s singles title at a World Championships; he is the only member to have ever played in a men’s singles event at an Olympic Games.
How crucial could those factors prove in Tokyo?