by Kabir Nagpal
Timo Boll in Poland
The legend from Germany has played his brand of entertaining table tennis across the globe but if there’s one place where he is invincible, it’s Poland. Ever since his injury-returned comeback in 2004, Timo ‘Magic’ Boll has progressed to win three more times in Poland – 2006, 2008 and 2009. However, the victory in 2004 was one where he was fighting his back-injury issues as well as public doubt as to whether he would return to his best. Boll, charged by his win in Poland, went on to record gold in Austria and then also in Germany.
These four wins in Poland are out of his total of 19 ITTF World Tour/Pro Tour victories – and they came when the opposition clearly had great problems how to stop his effervescent style of play.
Wang Nan in Japan
A legendary player, an ardent talent for being the first to achieve targets often thought next to impossible, China’s Wang Nan led the sport for almost two decades. During that time, her favourite destination quickly became a fellow Asian country.
The then entitled ‘ITTF Pro Tour’ event held in Japan had her name written all over it for three consecutive years – 1999 (Kobe), 2000 (Kobe), 2001 (Yokohama) – where she secured the women’s singles gold in style. Wang would then record a fourth gold in Chiba in 2007. It was also her final such women’s singles gold.
Ma Long in Doha
The ‘Dragon’ as he is famously called, roars so often in the city of Doha, it wouldn’t be amiss to see few children named after him. Winner of the title first time in 2013, Ma Long has since advanced to record gold medals in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Last year in the cauldron of Doha once again, the Dictator reigned supreme to win a record-equalling 27th ITTF World Tour title, after a seven-month battle against injury. It was a signal of strength and his affection towards the venue itself – and his natural-born winning ability, echoed throughout the campaign alongside his class, quality and competitiveness.
“In the context of my long standing injury, to come back the way I have done, this is the happiest ITTF World Tour title victory of my career. Winning here provides the perfect boost ahead of the World Championships and, of course, aids my long-term preparations for the Olympic Games.” Ma Long
Zhang Yining in China
Believed by many to be the best female player ever, you would be amiss to think she would not have a favourite spot where she secured five (!) of her 27 ITTF World Tour/Pro Tour titles. In this case however, Zhang Yining did not need to step too far away from home – or at all.
Winner of the China Open in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, Zhang was impeccable in her persistence to stay at the top of her game throughout that decade. The holder of the women’s world no.1 position from 2003 to 2009 – baring two months in 2008 – the Chinese marvel was simply unstoppable on home turf, crowds were deeply grateful. that.
Vladimir Samsonov in Zagreb
The evergreen Vladimir Samsonov hails from Belarus but his heart has been in Zagreb, Croatia, for a long time. Former world no.1 for three years straight in 1998 – 2000, Samsonov made sure he brought a great deal of gold back to his hometown and to what quickly became his second home.
Winner on the Pro Tour in Zagreb in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2005, Samsonov holds the title of ‘Most Pro-Tour wins ever’ as well as ‘Mister ECL’ for his European Champions League exploits. A true gentleman, Samsonov was at the peak of his powers whenever he was in Croatia. The four golds brought him the confidence to keep going – as he is still today at the age of 44.