A fierce rivalry that has been played out countless times on the world stage, Ma Long and Fan Zhendong knew each other’s games well, and both had experienced victory in high-pressure environments. So, it came as no surprise to see the two elite athletes produce yet another spectacular show for all to enjoy.
Eye-catching from start to finish, the match began in distinctive style as Fan lost the opening seven points and ultimately fell a game down early on. However, he soon levelled the scores with a much more commanding display in game two. Evenly poised at one game apiece, but with two of the following three games going in Ma’s favour, Fan knew he required something remarkable to turn the match around. Fighting right until the very end, Fan managed to reduce the deficit to one game, but it wasn’t enough as Ma booked his date with destiny in mesmerising fashion (11-4, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9, 3-11, 11-7).
“I think both Fan Zhendong and myself achieved our goal of making it an All-China final. We are now determined to get the gold medal again for the Team’s event. I was enjoying myself and did not put too much pressure on myself today. You have just got to go out there and do your best. If your opponent makes a mistake, you take advantage of it. I managed to do all of that today. When you play against a quality player like Fan, you must be in top form and cannot afford to make too many mistakes. I guess I have the experience of winning on the biggest stage, including the Olympics, and that probably gave me the edge over him today. Looking ahead to the Team’s event, we need to regroup as it’s no longer an individual effort anymore. We need to play to each other’s strengths and follow the game plan. It’s nice to see all the compliments about me. I want to continue playing table tennis for as long as I can. I like to thank my team and my family for their support and encouragement all these years,” said Ma Long
The victory sees Ma Long break new ground. He becomes the first-ever double Olympic champion in the Men’s Singles category, having also struck gold at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Ma now holds four Olympic gold medals to his name with his Men’s Team successes in 2012 and 2016, and has the opportunity to earn a fifth gold before the close of Tokyo 2020 with Team China the hot favourite in the upcoming Team event. China has now won 30 gold medals across all table tennis disciplines since the sport’s arrival on the Olympic scene in Seoul in 1988.
Disappointed to miss out on this occasion, Fan Zhendong takes home silver. Still, he has nonetheless enjoyed a fine outing on his Olympic debut, falling just short to a most worthy champion.
“I had my chances but just couldn’t take them today. Although I could not win a gold medal, I still managed to win a silver on my Olympics debut, so that is something I can be proud of. There can only be one champion in a competition. I have to continue working hard as there are still certain aspects of my game which can be improved,” said Fan Zhendong
Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov was awarded the Men’s Singles bronze medal following a sensational seven-game head-to-head with Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-Ju, saving four match points in the process (13-11, 9-11, 6-11, 11-4, 4-11, 15-13, 11-7).
Ovtcharov’s success marks his second bronze in the category, having reached the third step of the medals podium at London 2012, leading Germany to its eighth table tennis medal at the Olympic Games.
“I truly feel the last four days felt like five years. I really believed that I could go all the way. Then suddenly, I was almost knocked out by Hugo. Then I pulled myself back and had such a great match against Ma Long yesterday. Everything broke apart at the last point. I called my dad and my wife and said I never want to play table tennis again. It’s really too hard. But they gave me so much strength, and my dad said to me that if I’m going to win again today, the world will be great again. But yesterday evening, I didn’t even believe I could lift a racquet again. My dad was right. I won today, and everything feels amazing again. He had so many match points, and I felt it was over for me. But he missed, and in a blink of an eye later, I felt I had some divine help, and I was so delighted to be back in the game. Sport is incredibly crazy. On the one hand, I invested so much time and effort for that one single point. On the other hand, it can be so ugly when you do so much, and you lose by one point. It’s just insane,” said Dimitrij Ovtcharov
“It was really a pity I could not close out the match in the sixth game. I was probably too eager to win it. I’ll take a break now before regaining my focus for my next match in the Team’s event,” said Lin Yun-Ju
Following a one-day break in play, the attention shifts to the Men’s Team and Women’s Team events, which get underway with the round of 16 on Sunday 1st August.