29 Apr 2020

Six days completed, on the penultimate day of action, Saturday 27th April, at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships in Budapest, high on the agenda was the men’s doubles final.

Surprise pairings faced each other for the right to stand on the top step of the podium.

by Dominique Plattner, ITTF High Performance Manager

The combination of Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu and Spain’s Alvaro Robles, the no.7 seeds, faced the Chinese pairing of Ma Long and Wang Chuqin, the no.18 seeds, a status that rather belied their quality. In the eyes of most, despite the ranking, they were the favourites.


Road to final – Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles

  • Round One: beat Vildan Gadiev / Krill Skachkov (Russia) 13-11, 11-6, 11-5, 11-8
  • Round Two: beat Mihai Bobocica / Niagol Stoyanov (Italy) 11-6, 9-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-7
  • Round Three: beat Jonathan Groth / Liam Pitchford (Denmark / England) 11-7, 11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8
  • Quarter-Final: beat Mattias Falck / Kristian Karlsson (Sweden) 11-5, 11-7, 13-11, 11-9
  • Semi-Final: beat Tiago Apolonia / João Monteiro (Portugal) 11-6, 3-11, 10-12, 11-7, 11-7, 9-11, 11-8


Road to final – Ma Long and Wang Chuqin

  • Round One: beat Tomas Polansky / Pavel Sirucek (Czech Republic) 8-11, 15-13, 11-9, 11-3, 11-4
  • Round Two: beat Lam Siu Hang / Ng Pak Nam (Hong Kong) 11-7, 11-8, 11-6, 11-7
  • Round Three: beat Chen Chien-An / Chuang Chih-Yuan (Chinese Taipei) 11-5, 11-6, 11-8, 12-10
  • Quarter-Final: beat Jeoung Youngsik / Lee Sangsu (Korea Republic) 7-11, 11-6, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6, 11-9
  • Semi-Final: beat Liang Jingkun / Lin Gaoyuan (China) 12-10, 11-7, 11-7, 11-5)


Final: Ma Long / Wang Chuqin beat Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles 11-3, 8-11, 11-7, 11-3, 11-5

In a contest lasting 36 minutes and 46 seconds, the statistics reflect the quality of the Chinese pairing. Overall, they recorded 23 points more than Ionescu and Robles. The points won on their own serves 29 to 17, on their opponents’ serve 23 to 12; the facts speak for themselves.

Well-known faces sat on the bench. On the Chinese side was Chen Qi, men’s doubles winner at both the Olympic Games and World Championships; for the Europeans likewise there were former national team players courtside, Andrei Filimon and Alfredo Carneros shared duties.

The scene in Budapest, Wang Chuqin serves to Alvaro Robles (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Well prepared

From the very start, in the opening game, you could see that the Chinese pair was very well-prepared.

Ma Long, the “Dragon” and Wang Chuqin, the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic champion, played short to Robles, no spin to his backhand; afterwards they pushed long into Ionescu’s backhand, so that he couldn’t use his strength, his forehand. He was forced to play passively.

The rubbers on the rackets used by the Chinese are harder and have a stickier surface; with the correct technique and powerful movement the player is able to produce high quality top spin strokes. Ma Long and Wang Chuqin tried to open every exchange over the table, Ma Long, especially played close to the table.

For the Chinese pair, Wang Chuqin’s “banana” to return serve is a technique is of the highest quality, perfection. In particular, he is able to flick very low backspin returns down the line, he chooses different placements and different zones of impact on his rubber.

The “banana” return of Wang Chuqin (left) proved most effective (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Brave and clever

Ma Long and Wang Chuqin one game ahead; in the second, Robles started to take the ball earlier, to attack over the table and use his “banana” flick in order to present difficulties for Ma Long. Also Robles tried to use his reverse pendulum serve, the first such serve proved successful, the second was too long.

Wang Chuqin started to slow the game down. He performed heavy top spins, returned halfway between the net and end of the table. Robles was too far away, he had prepared for longer more powerful returns. However, the “banana” flick from Robles became more effective; in addition, Ma Long playing somewhat passively gave Ionescu time to execute his powerful forehand.

The European proved both brave and clever, in the second game they established a 10-8 lead; Ionescu pushed long, deep to the backhand of Wang Chuqin who had stepped forward anticipating a short return. He was not able to move back sufficiently quickly; it was parity.

Ovidiu Ionescu (nearest camera) and Alvaro Robles secured the second game but that was their only reward (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Earlier timing

Stung, in the third game, the Chinese pair executed their strokes with an earlier timing, they were much more aggressive. At 7-3 Wang Chuqin was faulted on his service; only 19 years old, it is very difficult for players to cope with kind of these situations; to his credit he stayed calm and focused. However, a hesitant blocking error followed, Ma Long made an error on a half-long service receive. Chen Qi called “time out”.

On the return to the table an incredible rally followed; a counter attack from Wang Chuqin on his knees was the feature. The junior player but in the third game, he rose to the occasion; playing over the table he was outstanding; also he adapted to the “banana” flick of Robles by using longer movements.

Advice from Chen Qi for Ma Long (left) and (right) Wang Chuqin (Photo: Rémy Gros)


Increased speed

A two games to one advantage, Ma Long and Wang Chuqin increased the speed of the play to an even greater extent. They tried to open the rallies as early as possible; Wang Chuqin played strongly, powerful top spins demonstrated with a good wrist and forearm action.

Meanwhile Ma Long had adapted to Robles’ down the line “banana” flick. The quality of play extolled by the Chinese rose, the Europeans could not control matters. At 5-2 in the fourth game Ma Long and Wang Chuqin were in control, Ionescu and Robles had to take risks, they made mistakes.

Wang Chuqin was now at peak performance. In the fifth game, the Chinese duo continued their domination. They excelled in the short play, they gave Ionescu and Robles no time to react. Leading 8-2, they were in the flow, they were unstoppable. The longer the match lasted, the better they performed.

They coped with their status of being the favourites; true world champions.

After the contest, at the on court interview, Ma long explained that Ionescu and Robles had proved very competitive but China had prepared thoroughly for the match.


Ovidiu Ionescu

First of all, we knew that they would be completely ready. We had noticed this when doing the draw for the serve before the match. We had had an idea of how we wanted to kick off the match, unfortunately we lost the draw; that’s why we won the second game, the line-up was better for us. Perhaps if we had started in this way, the chances could have been slightly higher. In the end we have to say that Ma Long and Wang Chuqin performed amazingly.

They played an almost perfect match from the beginning till the end. We didn’t find any weak points. It was in our mind that Wang Chuqin would be more nervous as he is a young guy in his first World Championship final, but he performed consistently, like a truly world champion. We did our best but they played a perfect match and we congratulate them. I am proud of our achievement. I am often watching the final match. We were in the final facing legends, it shows me that a dream came true.”

Earlier, at the European Championships I barely slept three or two hours before the semi-final and final. Also at the World Championships before the quarter-final and semi-final, I slept on average two or three hours per night. The night before the final we had to change the hotel. We ate very late in the lobby. It was around 1.00 am. I went to sleep at 2.00 am, immediately I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until 7 o’ clock. I had the feeling that this can’t be a good sign. I slept too well before such an important match. Unfortunately it was true. I had learnt from my sleeping behaviour if the match will be a good or bad one!” Ovidiu Ionescu

Alvaro Robles

“I will always remember, how they approached the match, how they started to scream, really loud starting from the first point; that impressed me a lot!

For me it was a new situation, to be in a big final like that. Ovi had been in the European Championship men’s singles final but me never in such an important one. I learned a lot. Ma Long and Wang Chuqin were the big favourites. Ma was ready to take this chance at any costs. In the end I was happy with our performance, will always remember. Congratulation to them. They showed that they are the best!” Alvaro Robles

A silver medal, a fine team effort from (left to right) Andrei Filimon, Ovidiu Ionescu, Alfredo Carneros and Alvaro Robles (Photo: Rémy Gros)
Features Liebherr 2019 ITTF World Table Tennis Championships ma long Wang Chuqin Alvaro Robles Ovidiu Ionescu

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