China’s Ma Long – the world No 1 in table tennis – aims to book a Rio Olympic spot at regional qualifiers in Hong Kong
Mainlander has won almost everything on offer but has yet to capture a Games singles gold medal
Mainlander Ma Long, the hottest player on the international scene, will compete in Hong Kong in April at the Olympic continental qualifiers as he pursues a first-ever Games singles gold medal.
The 27-year-old star, the world’s top player, was unstoppable in 2015 as he swept all the major singles titles including the world championships, World Cup and the World Tour grand finals.
The Olympic singles gold medal is the only major title to evade him. He was not chosen to represent China in singles at the London Olympics four years ago even though he was ranked number one in the world.
In order to qualify for the singles event of the Rio Games, players must first compete in the continental qualifiers.
“China are going to send their strongest squad to Hong Kong in order to book their singles berths first,” said Tony Yue Kwok-leung, the Hong Kong Table Tennis Association chairman and honorary secretary general of the Asian Table Tennis Union.
“They are the world powerhouse which means the internal competition is also very keen. Ma is the best player at the moment and will be eager to prove his status at the Olympic Games.
“With all these top players coming to Hong Kong, it will be very difficult for the home players,” he added.
In Hong Kong, Ma will ace stiff competition from his countryman Fan Zhendong, the world number two whom he beat in the final of the grand finals after seven games when he came back from 3-2 down. A nation can send four entrants each in the men’s and women’s competitions to the regional qualifiers, which take place at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai from April 13-17.
A maximum two players from each team can book their places in the Rio Games, which is also the maximum quota allowed for one nation in the singles events in Rio.
China will also be represented by a seemingly unbeatable women’s squad in Hong Kong, headed by world number one Liu Shiwen, number two Ding Ning and number three Zhu Yueling, as well as the London Games champion Li Xiaoxia.
Only 11 slots will be available in Hong Kong for the Asian qualifiers while 29 are available from five other continental events. There are 22 remaining berths that will decided by the world rankings in May.
Hong Kong will be led by Wong Chun-ting, currently ranked 12th in the world, in the men’s squad and Tie Yana in the women’s. Tie, 36, still holds the highest women’s world ranking for Hong Kong at 20.