by Kabir Nagpal
For table tennis, it is no different; five rivalries to whet the appetite when you are locked inside and have nowhere to go.
Timo Boll v Vladimir Samsonov
Two legends of the game from Europe, they are rivals but they are very much together; they have been the players who throughout the present century have been the flag-bearers for Europe.
At the Men’s World Cup whenever these two meet, it is Belarus’ Vladimir Samsonov who has had the upper hand. He prevailed over the German legend in 2005 in Liège, 2006 in Paris and more recently in 2013 in Verviers. Timo Boll succeeded when they met in 2007 in Barcelona and 2012 in Liverpool. However, when they have met on the ITTF World Tour, including the Grand Finals, the balance is very much in favour of Boll, as he has won four of their six encounters.
A rivalry set to continue, quite possibly their next meeting in a global final? Remember, at 43 and 39: both are eligible for the 2022 World Veteran Championships in Oman!
Ding Ning v Liu Shiwen
Encounters on the international stage, since they first met on the ITTF World Tour in 2007 in Nanjing, Liu Shiwen has won 16 of their 25 meetings but Ding Ning owns the full house of titles, Olympic Games champion, three times World champion, three times World Cup winner.
At the World Championships in 2011 in Rotterdam, Ding prevailed in their semi-final encounter and then memorably in the final in 2015 in Suzhou when she twisted her ankle at the start of the seventh game and won virtually playing on one leg.
Liu avenged those defeats in the penultimate round in 2019 in Budapest on her way to becoming World Champion but it is the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals where she holds the advantage. Commencing in London in 2011 they met in the women’s singles final on three consecutive occasions – Liu won all three!
Quadri Aruna v Omar Assar
Throughout the history of the sport in Africa, the traditional rival for honours have been Nigeria and Egypt; that continues today in the guise of Quadri Aruna and Omar Assar but arguably it continues at a level of play never previously witnessed in the continent.
Since 2014, they have been the prominent players at the African Cup qualification tournaments for places in the Men’s World Cup. Aruna has won four times, Assar on three occasions. Similarly they have been the dominant players in recent years at the African Championships. Assar won in 2015 and 2016, Aruna in 2018.
Overall since they first met at the 2010 African Championships in Yaoundé when Assar prevailed, the Egyptian has won nine of their 15 encounters but if you consider the most recent meeting since 2016, Aruna has succeeded in four of the seven encounters.
Lily Zhang v Adriana Diaz
The rivalry spans a over a decade, the first meeting being in 2009 on the ITTF World Junior Circuit when they crossed swords at the China Junior and Cadet Open in Chengdu. On that occasion the verdict went in favour of Lily Zhang but since that date it has been honours even as the duo can now lay just claim to being the leading ladies in the Pan American continent.
At the 2018 Pan American Championships, Adriana Diaz prevailed in their quarter-final women’s singles duel, before last year Zhang succeeded at the ITTF Challenge Slovenia Open and at the Women’s World Cup en route a record breaking semi-final appearance.
Most recently Diaz prevailed in the final of the Universal 2020 Pan American Cup.
Ma Long v Xu Xin v Fan Zhendong
The triumvirate over the past few years are so difficult to keep apart, even their rivalry needs to be three-ways! The “Big Three”, occupying the top three positions on the current world ranking, together they form a prodigious team.
Ma Long remains the man with the major honours internationally, however, since the 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum Open, it is level with two wins apiece for Xu Xin (Australia and Japan Open) and Ma Long (Qatar and China Opens). Meanwhile, in the last calendar year, Fan Zhendong prevailed in three of four meetings against Ma Long. Equally, commencing with the 2018 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open, Fan Zhendong has also won three of his four most recent meetings against Xu Xin.
However, Ma Long has achieved what Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin dream of achieving – Olympic champion and World champion – that is the true test of their rivalry.