by James Francis
Ma Long landed his sixth ITTF Finals title, extending the record he already held in the competition. The no.3 seed defeated Fan Zhendong, the defending champion and top seed, with a classy performance (13-11, 11-7, 12-10, 9-11, 11-8).
Earlier in the day, Chen Meng became the first player to win ITTF Finals gold in four consecutive years. The top seed overcame Wang Manyu, the no.4 seed (11-9, 11-13, 14-12, 11-8, 11-5) in what was a repeat of the final one year ago, also in Zhengzhou.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FOR MA LONG
Having suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Fan Zhendong exactly seven days ago in the final of the Dishang 2020 ITTF Men’s World Cup, Ma Long was a man on a mission in Zhengzhou.
It was a mission he accomplished with flying colours, as he claimed gold for the sixth time since first succeeding in 2008 in Macao. He has now won the ITTF Finals twice as many times as his nearest challenger, Wang Liqin, who triumphed on three occasions in 1998, 2000 and 2004.
Over the course of the week, Ma was never extended the full seven games distance. After accounting for Germany’s Patrick Franziska, the no.13 seed (12-10, 11-1, 11-6, 11-4), he saw off Sweden’s Mattias Falck, the no.8 seed (11-5, 7-11, 5-11, 11-6, 11-9, 13-11) to book a semi-final spot. Increasing in confidence, he reserved his place in the final by battling back from a losing position against fellow Chinese great, Xu Xin, the no.2 seed (11-13, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7).
“I am very happy after winning such a tough battle. Each and every point was difficult to win and I believe that Fan Zhendong could feel it too. At the end it was just a great relief for me. In terms of overall ability on the table, Fan is second to none at this current point in time. Since last year we have played each other in several finals, including at the Men’s World Cup last week, and he had the upper hand. In today’s match I really wanted to challenge him and thankfully I managed to win.” – Ma Long
A silver medallist this time around, Fan Zhendong reached Sunday’s showdown courtesy of a semi-final victory over the tournament’s surprise package, Korea Republic’s Jang Woojin, the no.14 seed (11-8, 11-4, 13-15, 11-8, 11-5).
On the opening day of action, Jang had caused two of the biggest shocks of the event, saving two match points in the fifth game on his way to ousting Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto, the no.4 seed (6-11, 2-11, 11-7, 7-11, 12-10, 11-2, 11-5) before knocking out China’s Lin Gaoyuan, the no.5 seed, at the quarter-final stage (11-7, 10-12, 1-11, 11-7, 12-10, 8-11, 11-6).
CHEN MENG ENTERS UNCHARTED TERRITORY
The first-ever player to win four consecutive titles at the ITTF Finals, Chen Meng added to her victories in 2017 (in Astana), 2018 (Incheon) and 2019 (Zhengzhou). In doing so, she broke the record of three successive gold medals that she had shared with Liu Shiwen, who triumphed in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Chen is now level with Zhang Yining on four women’s singles titles at the ITTF Finals. Zhang had previously held the record outright thanks to her wins in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006.
Chen grew in strength and stature over her four days in Zhengzhou. In the opening round, she was tested by Japan’s Miyu Kato, the no.15 seed (11-6, 13-11, 7-11, 11-6, 8-11, 11-4). Later, in the quarter-finals she overcame her biggest challenge, recovering from a two games to nil deficit against Germany’s Petrissa Solja, the no.14 seed (9-11, 10-12, 11-5, 11-5, 11-8, 11-6) to claim victory.
A semi-final place secured, Chen was imperious against Chinese opposition. She defeated Sun Yingsha, the no.3 seed, in straight games (11-9, 11-8, 11-8, 12-10) to book a showdown with Wang Manyu, a player in form. In the penultimate round, Wang had ended the hopes of Japan’s Mima Ito, the no.2 seed, with a powerful display of her own (11-3, 11-4, 11-9, 11-6). That win saw the 21-year-old reach her first international final since last year’s ITTF Finals defeat to Chen Meng, but she was unable to strike revenge against her irrepressible opponent.
“The first three games were very close. The difference was always by two points. Despite being in the lead most of the time, Wang Manyu kept closing the gap and the entire match was always tight. She was really determined and played very good shots, putting me under a lot of pressure. I could feel that she really wanted to win. At a few crucial moments, she made errors, but I made several myself as well.” – Chen Meng
Chen Meng boasts a 100% record in 2020 across ITTF competitions. She celebrated victory at the ITTF World Tour Platinum events in Germany and Qatar before the COVID-19 pandemic halted activity worldwide in March. Since the #RESTART series commenced in November, she has been the star of the show with gold medal hauls at both the Women’s World Cup and now the ITTF Finals.
#RESTART ENDS IN STYLE. NOW FOR WTT MACAO!
The Bank of Communications 2020 ITTF Finals represented the third and final event of the #RESTART series, which heralded the return of international table tennis after eight months of suspended activities due to COVID-19.
Table Tennis is one of the first sports to return to the international stage since the pandemic broke out and the #RESTART series has been a resounding success, bringing action, drama and emotions to the entire global fan base. The events have been carried out strictly in accordance with COVID-19 protocols to ensure the highest health and safety standards for athletes and everyone involved at the events.
Now attentions turn to WTT Macao, a special, promotional showcase being held between 25-29 November 2020, which will offer a first glimpse into the future of the sport. World Table Tennis (WTT), which is responsible for all of the global commercial and event business, was set up in order to elevate the sport to exciting new heights by taking a fresh look at the way table tennis events are run.
WTT Macao boasts a thrilling, original playing format and will showcase many of the sport’s biggest stars in brand-new WTT surrounds. It’s a moment that is certain to catch the eye and leave a special legacy for the sport. Stay tuned!