Ai Fukuhara and Wang Nan
One wonderful example of table tennis icons turned friends is the story of Ai Fukuhara and Wang Nan.
Both now retired from the professional game, Ai Fukuhara and Wang Nan both collected their fair share of silverware over the years, and are now seen as influential role models for young up-and-coming players looking to emulate their success in Japan and China.
Ai idolised Wang from a young age and when she eventually partnered the superstar in a Chinese Super League doubles match, the Japanese player made sure to pick up every ball for her teammate as a sign of respect! So close was their friendship that Ai was selected to be a bridesmaid at Wang’s wedding in 2008 while the Chinese legend’s family was in attendance for Ai’s wedding in 2016.
Omar Assar and Quadri Aruna
Two players who are actively still competing on the professional circuit, Omar Assar and Quadri Aruna are know for their intense rivalry, but were you aware the duo have actually formed a very close friendship?
The leading names in their respective countries, Omar and Quadri carry great pressure on their shoulders, not just from fans from their native Egypt and Nigeria, but the African continent! Bearing that in mind, it’s incredible that the two men vying for top spot possess such a close relationship away from the action:
“I admire my friendship with Quadri Aruna because of the extreme difference between on the table and off the table. During our matches we both fight for every point like if it was the end of the world and once the match is finished you can find us in the locker room making jokes about everything in the match. I respect our friendship and I hope it remains forever.” Omar Assar
Jan-Ove Waldner, Mikael Appelgren and Jörgen Persson
In sport everyone wants to be no.1, so when you have three players of the highest calibre in Jan-Ove Waldner, Mikael Appelgren and Jörgen Persson, the rivalry can become intense. However, the three Swedish legends remain on very good terms to this very day.
A great temperament between the trio, and one united goal to dethrone China from the summit of the game, helped to promote a great team dynamic in Sweden during the late 80s/early 90s. That point was highlighted by Jörgen in a recent interview between the ITTF and the three ‘Super Swedes’:
“Rivalry is always good in all sport and this was good. We met very often to practise together, and I think that was a key point also. But then the rivalry was always there. It was fun and when we met on the training camp, we were a team all together.” Jörgen Persson
Bruna Takahashi and Adriana Diaz
There are close-knit friendships between a number of the Pan American professional players too, one shining example comes from two of the region’s most exciting young talents in Bruna Takahashi and Adriana Diaz.
Just the one year between them, Bruna, 20, and Adriana, 19, are two of the biggest stars emerging from the Pan American scene and are both already ranked inside the world top 50. The future is bright for Brazilian and Puerto Rican table tennis and it’s wonderful to see the great bond between the two young talents.
Fierce rivals on the table, great friends off it, Bruna and Adriana’s mutual respect is most admirable. Bruna also happens to have formed a close friendship with Adriana’s sister Melanie.
Jonathan Groth and Liam Pitchford
Rounding off our list is another close friendship between two of the sport’s finest in Denmark’s Jonathan Groth and England’s Liam Pitchford.
Hailing from different countries, although both from the same continent, Jonathan and Liam have known one another for many years and will be teammates for TTSC UMMC in the forthcoming Russian club season.
The trust built between the two is so great that Jonathan accepted Liam’s guidance as coach during his qualification match against China’s Xue Fei at the 2019 ITTF World Tour Platinum Australian Open!
The ITTF wishes everyone in the global table tennis community a very Happy International Friendship Day 2020!