Six decades have passed since China first welcomed a World Championships, now from Friday 30th September to Sunday 9th October, Chengdu becomes the sixth Chinese city to host the prestigious gathering.
However, it is only the second time the country has been the destination when only team events are organised; the one other occasion being in 2008 in Guangzhou.
Prior to Guangzhou when both team and individual events were featured, Beijing had been journey’s end in 1961, Tianjin in 1995; later in 2005 in Shanghai and 2015 in Suzhou, the individual competitions were staged.
Beijing in 1961 was very much a watershed; it marked the birth of China as a major nation in the sport of table tennis, arresting the mantle from Japan, the dominant force since the early 1950s.
China won the men’s team event, Zhuang Zedong added to his medal haul by claiming the first of his three consecutive men’s singles titles; Qiu Zhonghui became the first Chinese to win the women’s singles event and thus set the standard for future generations.
Japan represented by Kazuko Ito, Kimiyo Matsuzaki, Tomi Okawa and Masako Seki retained the women’s team title winning for the third consecutive time.
Success for the Japanese women’s team was no surprise but there was a sensation, one of the biggest upsets ever in the history of the tournament dating back to 1926.
In the third round of the men’s singles, only 15 years old at the time, Brazil’s Ubiraci Rodrigues da Costa, always known as Biriba, overcame the host nation’s 23-year-old Rong Guotuan, the reigning World champion. Biriba was to be beaten in the next round by Hu Taopen, also from China.
China completed a clean sweep of all seven titles, the second occasion when they had achieved the feat, the first being 1981 in Novi Sad.
More pertinent was that the men arrested the balance of power; since Dortmund in 1989, Sweden had won the men’s team title on three consecutive occasions; Jan-Ove Waldner followed by Jörgen Persson and Frenchman Jean-Philippe Gatien had claimed the men’s singles title. The powerful shakehands grip topspin style play adopted by the Europeans, the use of so called “speed glue” in its prime, proved too powerful for the close to the table fast counter hitting Chinese style of play.
Ding Song, a defender with a spectacular forehand topspin, joined forces with Ma Wenge and Wang Tao, all shakehands grip players, to record a 3-2 win in the final against the Swedish trio formed by Peter Karlsson, Jörgen Persson and Jan-Ove Waldner.
Many in China believed the penhold grip should be consigned to history; the men’s singles final was to prove it was still of value. Two rising young Chinese stars, who in the men’s team final had been resigned to the bench, both at the time 19 years old, faced each other
Kong Linghui, using the shakehands grip in European mode, overcame the penholder, Liu Guoliang; like his predecessors Liu Guoliang adopted short pimpled rubber on the forehand but unlike those who had gone before, he used the reversed side of the racket, smooth rubber, to execute backhand topspin play. He set the example for Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Xu Xin to follow.
All five individual events finished in Chinese hands; Wang Liqin regained his men’s singles title having earlier in the proceedings partnered Guo Yue to mixed doubles gold, a significant win, it meant that he had won all four possible titles at a World Championships.
Zhang Yining won the first of her two World Championships women’s singles crowns, Germany’s Timo Boll and Christian Süss played perfect men’s doubles to record a semi-final success against the host nation’s Chen Qi and Ma Lin, the reigning Olympic champions. In the final they were beaten by Kong Linghui and Wang Hao.
Noteworthy performances but one accomplishment stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Denmark’s Michael Maze produced what is universally regarded as the greatest comeback ever in World Championships history.
Adopting high lobbed topspin tactics back from the table, after beating Wang Hao in straight games in round four; at the quarter-final stage against Hao Shuai, also from China, he lost the first three games and trailed 7-10 in the fourth.
Michael Maze makes the most dramatic recovery ever known (watch 26:21)
Hao Shuai erred with forehand topspin strokes, the one at 9-10 a disaster. Michael Maze slipped, laid face down on the floor, he scrambled the ball back on the table, with the crowd going crazy all that was needed was to put the ball back on the table, Hao Shuai made yet another unforced forehand mistake.
The talented Dane continued his high lobbed topspin approach, won the next two points, then the concluding three games. A place in the semi-final booked, he was beaten by Ma Lin.
The Evergrande Real Estate 2008 World Team Championships was dominated by China; they were never seriously threatened in the defence of the men’s and women’s titles won two years earlier in Bremen.
In the men’s team final, Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin, 19-year-old Ma Long resigned to the bench, recorded a 3-0 win against Korea Republic’s Lee Jungwoo, Joo Saehyuk and Ryu Seungmin. The only reverse was in the group stage, when a 3-1 margin of victory being the outcome against Romania. Andrei Filimon, whose preparation, in addition to a few hours in the practice hall, had been to go hunting and finishing in his native country, beat Wang Liqin.
Notably in the Championship Division in both men’s and women’s events; all three steps of the podium were reserved by Asia. Germany, without the services of Timo Boll, absent through injury, experienced a quarter-final defeat when facing Korea Republic.
Similarly, in the women’s event, China surrendered just one individual match; in the final against Singapore, in the opening contest Li Jiawei overcame Guo Yue. Zhang Yining came to the rescue beating both Feng Tianwei and Li Jiawei, sandwiched in between, Wang Nan accounted for Wang Yuegu.
The Qoros 2015 World Championships in Suzhou proved a major turning point in the career of Ma Long; in the previous three World Championships he had reached the men’s singles semi-final stage, but on each occasion, he had under performed, always losing to Wang Hao.
Confronting colleagues, he beat Fan Zhendong at the semi-final stage prior to overcoming Fang Bo to arrest the title; it proved a release valve that was to see him retain the title in 2017 in Düsseldorf and 2019 in Budapest.
However, in the men’s doubles, partnering Timo Boll, it was not to be success; the pair did not enjoy the best draw possible, in the second round they were beaten by Xu Xin and Zhang Jike, the champions elect.
Conversely, for one other partnership that witnessed a Chinese player alongside a colleague from foreign shores, there was success. Xu Xin partnered Yang Haeun to mixed doubles gold. Thus, Yang Haeun became the first player from the Korea Republic to win a World Championships title since Yoo Namkyu and Hyun Junghwa had secured the mixed doubles in 1989 in Dortmund.
Notable outcomes but, as on more than one previous occasion, there was a performance that stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Talent wins matches, courage wins major championship titles, Ding Ning beats Liu Shiwen (watch 1:14:26)
In the final of the women’s singles, facing Liu Shiwen, trailing 0-2 at the start of the vital seventh game, attempting a forehand topspin, off balance Ding Ning fell heavily on her right ankle, a 10 minute medical time was needed. Playing virtually on one leg, following the policy of keeping the ball on the table, nothing expansive, Ding Ning recovered to secure the top prize. It was one of the most courageous of courageous performances.
Thus, she regained the title won in 2011 in Rotterdam, she was to retain the crown in 2017 in Düsseldorf.
Drama in days of old; one wonders what awaits in Chengdu, mouth watering events await, of that fact there are no doubts.