by Kabir Nagpal
Kuala Lumpur, 1981: Klampar defies China
In a classic tournament from the 1980s, two men in fine form en route to the title decider met in the final, China’s Xie Saike and Hungary’s Tibor Klampar.
It was Xie who struck first – and second – to establish what looked like a decisive two game lead. However, Klampar had other ideas. Winning the third game 24-22, the Hungarian regained his confidence and won two games consecutively to become the first and only Hungarian to date to win the World Cup (10-21, 13-21, 24-22, 21-17, 21-18).
Chiba, 1990: Waldner makes his mark
Often nicknamed the “Mozart of table tennis”, Sweden’s very own Jan-Ove Waldner always had a way to impress his opponents – even the Chinese. At the 1990 Men’s World Cup, Waldner played the two-time winner Ma Wenge in the final, who had not lost a single match at the event.
In what was a tense final, Waldner took the lead but saw it immediately neutralized by Ma. The scenario happened again, gold was up for grabs in the deciding fifth game. Using his amazing technique and unique style of blocking, the European found a way past his Asian opponent’s tough stance to secure what was an historic World Cup title (21-13, 13-21, 21-19, 12-21, 21-17).
Xiaoshan, 2004: Solid defence for Ma Lin
China’s defending champion Ma Lin saw himself face the same finalist for the same trophy a year later as he won a hard fought six-game final at the ITTF Men’s World Cup in 2004. Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece saw himself take an unlikely lead which sent the match into a different setting.
Despite having not lost to his Greek opponent in eight matches, Ma was careful and found his rhythm to regain control of the match – and also secure a 4-2 (5-11, 14-12, 3-11, 14-12, 11-9, 12-10) win. It meant that Ma became the first man in history to collect three titles since the first World Cup was held in Hong Kong in 1980.
“I was stunned by Kreanga’s performance at first. Fortunately I found myself later and switched my strategy. I hope this World Cup can bring me to a better performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games”. Ma Lin
Paris, 2006: One more for Ma
After winning three ITTF Pro Tour titles in 2006, Ma Lin went won the Liebherr Men’s World Cup in Paris. He did in style too, defeating his compatriot Wang Hao in a seven-game thriller (6-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9, 4-11, 11-4).
“I made a slow start in the qualification group matches, playing Patrick Chila was really tough and the match against Werner Schlager in the quarters was also hard. My coach, Liu Guoliang, gave me solutions and I improved my play, my goal is now to keep my shape to compete and win in Doha at the Asian games.” Ma Lin
Both Chinese athletes had won their respective semi-finals in straight games; the confidence of both players was very visible. Wang took a two game lead early on, and then Ma stormed back into the match with three straight games. After that, it was a very even match and needed two very even games for Ma to secure his fourth title; no other player has won the crown more than twice.
Dusseldorf, 2014: Zhang jumps to victory
It was another all-Chinese final at 2014 Men’s World Cup – but this time between two of the most celebrated Chinese athletes in the past two decades. Zhang Jike beat Ma Long to the gold medal in a supremely interesting final, winning 4-3 (8-11, 11-4, 13-11, 7-11, 2-11, 11-5, 12-10).
“This was a perfect victory; I have been under a great deal of pressure, with people questioning my form. I am now very satisfied and very relieved, I would like to congratulate Ma Long on an amazing final; we really put on a table tennis exhibition.” Zhang Jike
The World and Olympic champion Zhang Jike was in the form of his life, but his compatriot was in no mood to make it easy for him. Ma took the lead, and when Zhang returned with two games, Ma equalized and then took the lead himself. However, Zhang – winner of the World Cup in 2011 in Paris – found his form again and took the final two games in style; overcoming the top seed Ma Long.